This weekend I am providing coverage at Our Lady of the Annunciation Parish in Queensbury, New York. This is my Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Who owns money and who owns the world?
In the famous scene from today’s Gospel, Jesus take our a dollar bill and asks, “Who’s picture is on it?” George Washington, they reply. “Then give to Washington what belongs to Washington,” he commands, “but to God what belongs to God.”
Now throughout the years, homilists have spent a great deal of time analyzing the first half of that answer: Pay your taxes. Vote. Obey the law, as long as it does not violate the law of God. Be good citizens. Render unto Washington what belongs to Washington.
But I want to spend a couple minutes on the second half of the Lord’s command: “render unto God what belongs to God.”
Isn’t it beautiful today? A perfect Fall day. And we’re surrounded by leaves and wind and a hint of winter and a bright blue sky. Well, who owns all that? To whom does the earth belong?
Look closely. If George Washington’s face establishes his ownership of a dollar bill, it is God’s face which is imprinted on everything else!
On the rising sun, and the blue skies, on the birds of the air and the soaring peaks of the Adirondacks. On the human heart and a baby’s smile, on a bowl of cereal and a plate of pasta, on a glass of wine and a bottle of milk. It all belongs to God, for (in the words of the Psalmist) “His is the earth and all its fullness.” He made it all. And we, the crowning achievement of his creation, were made to look like him: to love.
From the beginning we were made to love, to participate in the continuing creation of God’s goodness: making love out of hate….light out of darkness….hope out of despair…life out of death.
That’s why the Lord told the story of the rich man and Lazarus. You remember it. Here’s a man just like us, except that he got rich when he won the New York State Lottery. He buys an Iphone6+, a new Mercedes S-class, and a condo on Center Square.
And outside his condo, leaning against the Mercedes, is the beggar Lazarus, who longs to eat the leftovers from the rich man’s table. But the rich man looks the other way, gets in his Mercedes, and drives away.
And eventually, despite all the apps on his Iphone, the rich man dies. And so does Lazarus. And, as you may have guessed, Lazarus goes to Heaven and the rich man goes to hell.
And in that story Jesus tells us the secret of life! That we will be judged not on how often we have prayed, or how well we have preached, or how beautifully we have written about the things of God…But on whether we have used this world’s goods, God’s goods, to love or to be selfish…whether we have opened our arms, our hearts, and our lives to those who need us---or whether we have spent all our time grabbing for all the gusto we could get.
Times like these
It’s a tough lesson to learn, especially in times like these.
In times when we’re worried whether we’ll have enough money to retire on, it’s hard to have sympathy for the undocumented immigrant or the drug addict or the guy who keeps falling down drunk.
In times when parents worry if there’s enough on the debit card to pay for the cart of groceries as the kids run down the aisle, it’s hard to have compassion for the single mother who just had her third baby.
In times when it costs so much to fill the tank to get home, or to heat the house when I get there, it’s hard to worry about someone else’s problems…especially if they act funny or seem crazy or smell.
But all the earth, and all the crazy people on it, belong to him. And he made me to love them all, just like he did: to bring light out of darkness…hope out of despair…and love out of hate.
In times like these, especially in times like these, we must render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.