Monday, October 17, 2011

Render unto Caesar

My Dear friends in Christ

May the Grace and Peace of God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ come into your heart and remain with you forever. When I was an Associate Pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, once a year, we would get one of the retired priests to celebrate mass in our rural parish in Gilbert so that both Pastor and the Associate could be present at all masses for this homily. It was a fun homily in some ways because we turned it into a dialogue. Most of the time, in the dialogue, I was the dumb guy who didn’t quite “get” what we were talking about and Father Ev Hemann, the pastor, had to explain it to me. Unfortunately, that’s impossible in this current set-up. First of all, I don’t have an Associate Pastor. Fr. Lippstock is a Sacramental Priest and, as you’re probably aware, that means that he is here to celebrate sacraments for us and there are certain things that he doesn’t have to do. Plus, even if we still had an Associate pastor, the number of masses in different towns and distance between those towns would almost make it impossible. So, given this fact, I have to be both people in the dialogue. I will be (standing at the pulpit) young Fr. Dennis the excited but slightly misguided Associate Pastor sent year to learn from (sitting in the chair) old Fr. Miller the seasoned, wise, but slightly cynical pastor. Okay, ready?

At the ambo: Hi! My name is Fr. Dennis and I’m the Associate Pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Student center and I’m here today to be brief and to the point, or at least that’s what Fr. Miller told me. (Laugh harder than the joke deserves) Just kidding. In Today’s gospel we heard Jesus say that we are supposed to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.

At the chair: Oh my gosh. Don’t repeat what you just read in the Gospel like we weren’t paying attention. It’s insulting to your audience.

At the Ambo: Oh, sorry. The past few Sundays, Jesus has had some very hard words for the Pharisees and Scholars of the Law and this one is no different. Three Sundays ago, he said that the scourge of the earth, tax collectors and prostitutes, were entering the kingdom before Pharisees and Scholars of the Law. Then, for the last two weeks, he told parables that all seem to imply that the leaders of the Jews have been behaving so badly by killing and beating people that God is going to get rid of them and replace them with others.

At the chair: Why only go back three weeks? Why not summarize everything we’ve heard since Advent. GET TO THE POINT!

At the Ambo: Right. Today, Jesus is asked a question from those same Pharisees and Scholars of the Law he has upset for the last few weeks who are there in a kind of gotcha interview, as Sarah Palin would say. They ask if they need to pay taxes or not. Now, you need to know that there was a division between two groups in Judaism at the time of Jesus. The Pharisees didn’t like the fact that the Romans were occupying Israel. They sort of tolerated Roman presence but simultaneously worked to get them to leave and worked to enforce laws as though they were still in charge. Their opponents, in a sense, were the Saducees who were very much in league with the Romans. They had become rich by cooperating with them and they even got rid of certain parts of Judaism in order to get rid of anything that would threaten Roman leaders. So, in effect, the Pharisees in asking this question of Jesus are asking if he is a Pharisee or a Saducee, a conservative or a liberal, a Cyclone or a Hawkeye. Jesus response, actually I’m a Panther fan. He’s giving me that look like I should get to the point, so here it is. Jesus answer is tricky. On the one hand, he seems to agree with the Sadducees that we should work with the Romans and pay the taxes using the money with the false god, Caesar’s, image on it. But, what he really says is give to “Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Did Caesar make the world? Did Caesar make the elements? Even if the coin has his face on it, everything that it’s made out of is God’s. Caesar is just borrowing it.
Today we are going to talk about money. The pastor told me that if I do a good job, it’ll be the one time in the year that you’ll have to hear about it. So, here goes brief and to the point. We need your money. Not just some of it, all of it. We have some big bills to pay coming up this winter and we’re going to close your parish if you don’t start giving more money so stop being such cheapskates and give some money…

At the chair: Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! What are you doing? We talked about this That’s not the right way to approach a Sacrificial Giving homily. (Move from the chair to one side of the pulpit). You started off so good in emphasizing that everything that we have has been given to us by God but then you totally went off track.

At the Ambo: Really?

At the chair: Yes. The reason we talk about money on this ONE AND ONLY Sunday of the year is not because of the church’s needs. Jesus didn’t say in the gospel that you should give just because we need a new roof or a new boiler. He said that you should give back to God in thanksgiving for everything that God has given to you. You need to tell the nice people just how impressed you are at the generosity of so many of them. Their money is used to pay bills for our parish and salaries for our employees. But, you also need to tell them that there are some of them that don’t contribute as much as they could and ask them to prayerfully consider giving more. Some of them have been giving the same $1 or $5 since they were kids and just as their age has gotten bigger, so their contribution should follow suit. Others probably haven’t thought about the amount of money that it takes to run a parish at all and need to be asked to consider giving something for the first time.

At the Ambo: That’s right. Now I remember. You said that a lot of times a figure of 10% is thrown around, 5% to the church and 5% to other charities, because it’s tithing. But, each individual or family needs to ask themselves what they can afford to give. For some people, giving 10% of their income might not be a sacrifice at all. For others, they wouldn’t be able to eat if they gave away 10% of their income. Especially in these uncertain financial times, we all have to be responsible with our generosity but we are, nonetheless, called to be generous.

At the chair: Very good.Well, Thank you Fr. Dennis for the message. I hope you do better at the next mass or I may just have to do it myself.