Liturgical Colour : Green
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, as we reflect on the Word of God in the Scriptures, we are all reminded to do our part as Christians, as those who believe in God and follow the Lord. As Christians, all of us are God’s beloved people, and we have received His truth through the Church. If we truly believe in the Lord, then we must act and do things in ways that are in accordance to His teachings. Otherwise, if we do not do so, then we are hypocrites.
In our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we heard the Lord proclaiming His salvation of His people through Cyrus, the then future king of the Persians. At the time of the prophet Isaiah, it was still two centuries or so before the time of king Cyrus. Yet, the Lord had proclaimed the coming of His salvation even at that time, in advance, that when His people who by then had become wayward and fallen into sin, and humiliated and humbled when their city, country and the Temple were destroyed, they were ultimately still beloved by God in the end.
When the Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem and Judah, looted and destroyed its Temple, the House of God, and brought most of the people off into exile in Babylon and far-off lands, it must have been very despicable and terrible for the descendants of the Israelites then, who had to endure such shame and humiliation, suffering and persecutions, as aliens and foreigners without any homeland. But God showed all of them that He still cared for them and loved them, and sent them a deliverer through Cyrus.
Cyrus, the ruler of Persia rose to power and eventually came to destroy the reign of the Babylonians and their tyranny, overthrowing them and their king, and brought about a new reign and era. King Cyrus was remembered for his upright and just rule, and for his revolutionary advancement of the rights of peoples and nations. He respected the rights of the various peoples and nationalities that existed in the vast Persian Empire he created, and his successors respected this same custom and practice.
It was this same Cyrus, whom God had revealed beforehand through prophecy, that freed the descendants of Israel from their bondage and exile, after many, many decades. They were allowed to return to their homeland, to regain the lands and places they had lost, and they were allowed to freely practice their faith once again. This is unusual as at that time, usually the ruler of the kingdoms got to decide what the people believed in, and usually persecuted foreign beliefs and practices.
Thus, Cyrus was considered a righteous among the nations, even though he did not belong to the Israelite nation, and even though he did not worship God the way that the Israelites worshipped Him. Cyrus obeyed God’s will and did everything that God had entrusted him with, as a just ruler and as the liberator of God’s oppressed people. Cyrus became a paragon and example among the Israelites henceforth, and he therefore is a good example for us all as well.
In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord Jesus as He spoke with the Pharisees, who at that time wanted to trap the Lord with cunning trickery, as they asked Him with sweet but insincere words, seemingly praising Him for being honest and upright, and then attempting to trap Him by asking if it was lawful and fine for the people to pay the taxes to Caesar, that is to the Roman government.
This was truly a very cunning and tricky attempt in trying to discredit and even harm the Lord. The Lord was in fact would end up in deep trouble had He answered either that the people must not pay the taxes or that they should obey and pay their taxes. This was because, the matter of Roman taxes was a very divisive and dangerous one at the time, with most of the people resenting the taxation, the money that they had to pay to their Roman overlords.
That was why the people resented the tax collectors very much and reviled them as one of the lowest in the community, treated with contempt and branded even as traitors to the nation. They were seen as collaborators who got rich and had good life due to their connections with the Roman government and its apparatus, and the people came to resent this very deeply. Thus, had the Lord answered that the people ought to pay taxes to the Romans, then the Pharisees would have severely discredited Him and made Him hated by the people.
On the other hand, had the Lord said that the people must not pay taxes, then the Pharisees would have used the opportunity to strike at Him by reporting Him to the Romans, just as they would eventually do together with the Sanhedrin when they handed the Lord to the Romans for the crucifixion. Not paying taxes was one of the most severe faults that the Romans would definitely punish very harshly. After all, the Romans had treated traitors and treasonous activities with the great harshness throughout its history.
Instead, the Lord wisely manouevred His way out of the predicament by first rebuking the Pharisees for their wicked attempt in trying to trap and discredit HIm, and then saying that on that matter, then everyone ought to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and in the same way, give to God, what belongs to God. In this way, the Lord neither said that the people must submit to the Romans for their taxes, or that they should not pay taxes. On the contrary, they give whatever is due to each.
We can see here that the Lord wants to remind us that all of earthly possessions, all these things all belong to the world, and just as we have been blessed and given these possessions, some of us having more while others having less, we have to let them go and give them back whenever it is necessary. And then, all of us must remember that all of us ourselves, belong to God and to Him alone, and because of this, we ought to give to God what is due to Him, that is to love Him and dedicate ourselves to Him wholeheartedly.
The example of king Cyrus of Persia in our first reading today is a reminder that God has empowered in this world, governments and states, nations and rulers with the authority from Him, to govern and rule, to lead and guide, in tandem with the Church which He has established in this world. To those rulers, God had entrusted us His people who are still living in this world. This is why, as good and committed Christians, we cannot be disobedient or rebellious against those governments and rulers God had placed over us.
We have our part to play as obedient and dutiful citizens and peoples of the countries we are in. Of course this does not mean that we follow the rules blindly, as we have to obey the laws and teachings of the Church as well. But it means that as long as the rules of the land do not contradict the essence of Christian teachings and are in line with the virtues and values of our Christian faith, we should obey and follow them.
That is why, all of us as Christians, we must be good and virtuous in all of our actions and deeds. We have to be good Christians and followers of the Lord, just as we have to be good and law-abiding citizens as well. We must not be like the Pharisees and all those hypocrites, who outwardly showed piety and faith, and yet, they had no real and genuine love and dedication to God. In this way, they had not given to God, what belongs to God, that is their love and their obedience.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we see in king Cyrus, who was not even counted among the Israelites, and yet, highly regarded and praised for his actions, his righteousness and justice as a just ruler and liberator for many people including the people of Israel, all of us are called to follow in his examples, to follow the path of God, all the more that since we know of His truth and teachings, then we are expected to obey Him and to show our faith through our actions, at each and every moments of our lives.
This is the challenge that we have been presented with, brethren. Are we willing and able to commit ourselves to walk down this path of faith? God has called us all to follow Him, and to do what He has taught and shown us to do. We are all called to bear His truth and love, to be His faithful witnesses in our respective communities. And especially, during these difficult and challenging times, have we been good neighbours and friends to all those who are in need around us? Or have we been more interested in settling our own matters and desires?
We have seen how many people selfishly took care of themselves, or being disobedient for the sake of their personal freedom. And there had been occasions when we as Christians complained that we have been restricted in our freedom to worship especially in the last few months, and we disobeyed the government and regulations all amidst the terrible few months of this pandemic. This is the perfect example of why, as Christians, we must not forget that while we obey the Lord first and foremost above all else, but we also have a duty to be good and responsible citizens too.
Let us think of this, brothers and sisters in Christ, if by our actions then by refusing to wear mask, or by refusing to follow community gathering and restrictions currently in place, we cause harm to others, and make others to suffer more, and by prolonging this pandemic, we unnecessarily extend this pandemic’s impact, aren’t we being hypocrites and unfaithful, and worse still, being selfish and sinful? This is why, we must not lose ourselves to our own pride and desires, and be disobedient for the sake of being convenient for ourselves.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore from now on, especially during these difficult times, be exemplary in our actions and deeds, in being responsible in our daily actions, and in showing care towards others in need. Let us all help one another and play our part, doing the best we can to be first and foremost, dutiful and loving Christians, and also as contributing and law-abiding citizens of our respective states and realms.
May the Lord be with us always, and may He guide us with His wisdom that we may discern carefully our choice of actions, avoiding actions that bring about harm to others just that we feed our own ego and selfishness. Let us be guided by God and our Christian faith in our actions and way of life. May God bless us all and help us in our efforts and endeavours. Amen.