The gospel for tomorrow, Oct. 18, 2020 tells of one of those famous showdowns between Jesus and his enemies who keep "trying to trap him in his speech." This episode concerns whether a pious Jew should pay taxes to the pagan emperor. If Jesus answers no, then he'll get in trouble with the Romans, but if he answers yes, then he'll be going against God's law.
Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?"
Knowing their malice, Jesus said,
"Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?
Show me the coin that pays the census tax."
Then they handed him the Roman coin.
He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?"
They replied, "Caesar's."
At that he said to them,
"Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God. (Mt. 25:15-21)
Jesus' clever response avoids the trap that had been laid for him, but points up a challenge to us his followers. It's easy enough to see what "repay to Caesar" means: Living in the everyday world of making a living, of buying things and providing ourselves with practical necessities (not to mention taxes of all sorts). Even the Pharisees bought into the Roman economic system. Notice how easily someone came up with a Roman coin when Jesus asked to see one.
But what about the second part, "repay to God what belongs to God?" I may be wrong about this, but I suspect that many people today would be at a loss as to what the expression means. Their answer would be a blank stare or a statement such as "I'm not religious"; "I don't think much about God"; "I don't consider God part of my life." Others, though, might say it means to go to church on Sunday or give alms to the poor. Or pray a lot, or avoid sin.
But my more immediate concern right now is my own personal response to the challenge to give God what belongs to God. What does it mean for me? I've been reflecting on this for much of the morning. The problem is that what belongs to God is everything. So if I want to try to respond seriously to the Lord's demands and ask myself "What does the Lord want of me?" the answer is "Everything." Yikes! Am I prepared for that? I had in mind something more limited. You know, like being charitable to everyone, avoiding vices, praying often, things like that. But "everything" seems a little extreme.
GIVING IT ALL TO GOD
In a few minutes, our novice brother Robert Islas is going to profess his vows as a Benedictine monk. Here is the vow formula he'll read aloud and sign:
+ In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. I, Brother Robert of Molesme Islas, of Cañada de Islas, Jalisco, Diocese of San Juan de Los Lagos, promise with vows valid for three years, before God and his saints, in the presence of our Father in Christ, Abbot Melvin J. Valvano, O.S.B., and the monks of this monastery, stability in this community, conversion through a monastic way of life, and obedience according to the Rule of our Holy Father Benedict and the law proper to our Congregation. In witness whereof I have prepared this document and signed it here at The Benedictine Abbey of Newark in the year of our Lord 2020, on the seventeenth day of October, the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch.
This starts to sound a lot like "giving to God what belongs to God."
Let's all pray for our new twenty year-old monk, that the Lord will bless him with a long and joy-filled life in the monastery!