29th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A
The Balance Sheet
Don’t cheat- balance your loyalties. We live in a very complex world where in we owe allegiance to different individuals and groups as well as ourselves. We belong to families, local churches, civic groups, ad governments. The delicate art of living consists of aligning our priorities and then giving each the proper degree of attention. From experience we know that problems arise when we do not hold our loyalties in reasonable tension.’
Today’s readings deal with the reality of loyalties. While they admit that life is ray, not black and white, they also contend that the believer must seek to harmonize the varied facets of life. Without providing any mathematic equation, the urge the believer to take a long hard look at this complex world and make honest assessments. They maintain: Don’t cheat- balance your loyalties.
It was only a matter of time before the Persian King Cyrus the Great, would conquer Babylon and thus claim allegiance of Israel’s exiles. Realizing this change in world rule, Second Isaiah offered his audience an interpretation of this historical event that would impact their loyalties. In a daring move, Isaiah spoke of this pagan king as God’s messiah, or anointed. He showed that by grasping his hand Yahweh recognized Cyrus as the legitimate ruler of his people.
Second Isaiah also struck a balance. Yahweh was overlord and Cyrus was servant. Israel had to recognize that Yahweh was the only God- that there can be no compromise. Allegiance to Cyrus must not confuse the fact that Yahweh used the monarch to advance Israel’s future. Though Cyrus demanded loyalty from all his subjects. Israel had to always recall Yahweh’s words: ” I am the Lord, and there is no other” Don’t Cheat- Balance your loyalties.
Matthew notes the duplicity of the Pharisees and the Herodians over the matter of tribute to the emperor. Their plan is to foil Jesus, not to seek after the truth. Hence, though they address Jesus as teacher they do not intend to become his disciples. Entrapment is obviously their purpose, and the question of tribute to the hated Roman oppressors seems well suited to that purpose.
Jesus does not enter into a detailed analysis of the percentages of loyalty due to God and Caesar, Instead, to the embarrassment of his questioners, he acknowledges the principle of loyalty to both. If he had denied tribute to Caesar, he would have appeared as a revolutionary. If he had simply accepted tribute to Caesar, he would have seemed disloyal to devout Jews and the popular crowds. In the end, the would-be foilers learn this timely lesson: Don’t cheat- balance your loyalties.
Home and work, place a significant demand on the believer. Today’s liturgy suggests that the believers must access the loyalty due to family and to career. If family concerns cease to be important and job interests absorb most of the time and energy, the moment has arrived to heed: Don’t cheat- balance your loyalties.
Prayer and socializing also exact loyalties from the believer. Today’s liturgy implies that the believer must confront the allegiance due to God and friends. If private and communal communication with God begins to wane and social activities command and ever-increasing time and commitment, the hour has come: Don’t cheat -balance your loyalties.
What can I do concretely to repay to God what belongs to God? How does giving back to God make me feel richer?