Monday, 13 August 2018 : 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Pope St. Pontian, Pope and Martyr, and St. Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the Scripture passages relating to us about firstly the vision of the prophet Ezekiel as he saw the vision of the glory of God on His heavenly throne. He saw the Lord enthroned gloriously upon the Thrones and Cherubim, with a great multitude of Angels, surrounded by Seraphim and all the great servants of God.

In that vision, the Lord called Ezekiel, one of the exiles of Israel and Judah in the land of Babylon after they were brought there by king Nebuchadnezzar. Ezekiel was called to be God’s mouthpiece and prophet, to declare to the people in exile of His will and what would happen to the people and the kingdom of Judah, to be destroyed and brought into exile for their sins and constant disobedience against God.

Through what God has shown Ezekiel, He wanted him to know who his master truly was, that is none other than God Himself. Ezekiel obeyed the Lord and followed His commands, even though he had to encounter many opposition and challenges, even threats to his own life. He did what he could in order to perform whatever tasks He had entrusted to him, in order to bring Israel and its people to repent from their sins and reconcile with Him.

God was calling on His people through Ezekiel in order to gather them once again, that they may call Him their God, and He may call them His people. And this is related to what we heard through today’s Gospel passage, where St. Peter asked the Lord if they should all pay taxes to Temple as they were told to. And the Lord’s answer was truly wise and is something that all of us should take heed of as we carry on living our lives in this world.

At that time, the Romans ruled over most of the land around the Mediterranean Sea, including the area of Judea, where the ancient land of Israel was. They stationed garrison troops and installed governors to maintain local order, and they also imposed taxes on all the subject nations and peoples. The taxes paid to the government was used to fund all state expenses, and was also an important sign and proof of submission to the Roman state.

And on top of that, the Temple tax mentioned earlier was an additional tax levied on the Jewish people in order to maintain the running of the Temple of Jerusalem, which was the heart and centre of the Jewish faith, where sacrifices were regularly conducted. There were also many priests and ceremonies in that city, which required maintenance. Hence, again, the Temple tax was a sign of support and also obedience to the Jewish authorities, just as the Roman tax was a sign of obedience to the Romans.

The Lord Jesus said to St. Peter, asking him of his opinion, on who was supposed to pay the taxes to the kings, whether those who belong to the royalty or aliens, that is strangers and the common people. The Apostle answered that the strangers and aliens were the ones who were supposed to pay the taxes and not those who belong to the family of the kings.

Through this, the Lord wanted to state that, as the first reading passage today has shown us, He is the One and only True King of the whole Creation and the entire Universe. There is no other authority or power greater than that of God, and He alone is the source of all power and authority. And then, each and every one of us are beloved by God, that we are made to be none other than God’s own adopted sons and daughters.

Through Christ, Who became Man and as One Who is like us in His humanity, each one of us have been given the chance to call God our Father, just as Jesus called God the Father as His Father. Christ is both the Son of God and Son of Man alike, and through this, we are made to be God’s own children. Therefore, linking this fact with what the Lord had said in today’s Gospel passage, all of us ought to only obey God and His commandments alone.

But, this does not mean that we should disobey earthly and worldly authorities, as being Christians mean that we must be God-centric and we must place Him at the very centre of our lives, but not at the expense of our certain worldly obligations and relationships. We have to realise, that governments and worldly states are actually delegated part of the authority which God alone has.

That means, if we disobey the world and the order of things in this world, just because we want to obey only the Lord and no others, but at the detriment of ourselves and many others around us, we are actually not being responsible and good Christians. There are indeed occasions when the state and the government may act in contrary to the teachings of the Lord as preserved in His Church, when we are called to stand up for our faith, but as long as the state functions within the just boundaries of Christian truth and morality, we should obey the laws of the state and be good citizens of this world, just as we are first and foremost, God’s people.

Today, we celebrate the feast of Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus, whose life and works were intertwined together at the time when the Church was in its early days, during the time of the harsh persecutions of Christians by the Roman authorities. There were rivalry and bitterness between the two saints, as they were rival candidates to succeed to the throne of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.

Nonetheless, even though they eventually became rival Pope and Antipope, with portions of the faithful and the clergy on each side, but they continued to serve the faithful in their respective capacities, and as Roman citizens, surely they also obeyed the Roman state in the matter of paying taxes and also other civil duties, with the exception of the obligation to worship the pagan gods and the Emperor.

To them, their one and only true Master, is the Lord, and not the Roman Emperor or that of any other authorities of the world. That was why, they stood their ground in faith, when the community of the faithful were persecuted by the Roman authorities. And it was told that they were exiled together and endured many persecutions and sufferings, until they were martyred.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us are called to follow in the footsteps of those holy martyrs, who have given their all to the Lord and obeyed Him to the very end. Yet, at the same time, we are also called to continue to obey the authorities of this world, to which power and authority had been delegated from God, as long as the laws and rules do not contravene the centre tenets of our Christian faith.

May God be with us always, and may He continue to inspire us all to live with faith and with greater love, each and every day, for His laws and commandments. May He bless us all, in all of our works and endeavours, now and forevermore. Amen.

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