Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Psalm 96:1, 3-5, 7-10
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5
God acts in strange ways sometimes. One day I was at the seminary in the chapel and felt convicted that I needed to simplify my life a bit, so I prayed for the grace to spend less time on the computer, internet, and my phone. I concluded my prayer, went upstairs, sat down in my chair and swung around to work at my desk. In this swing I hit my knee on the desk, causing my solid glass picture frame to come crashing down directly on the screen of my laptop. Prayer answered! Not how I had expected and much more expensively than anticipated, but prayer answered.
For the past couple of weeks there has been a Synod of Bishops (a gathering of Cardinals, Bishops, lay men and women, and various professionals from across the globe) in Rome to discuss “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” That’s a mouthful of a title, but the basic idea seems great – how can the Church help families today to thrive in life and in faith. And so they had hours and hours of discussions on a whole host of topics, but interestingly enough, when the secular media read the document that was released half-way through the Synod as a summary of their discussions something entirely different came up – ‘The Church is Okay with Gays!’, ‘Ground-breaking changes in the Church!’ and ‘Church finally coming out of dark ages!’ And my first thoughts were basically (pardon my language) ‘What the hell does any of that have to do with the family!?’ Nothing! And with those announcements came a great uproar from all sides. Some greatly in favor of such changes and other in shock because they Church cannot make such changes. But in the midst of all of this, we have to realize one thing: this is a test. Do we trust God to work through all of this? It’s a test.
We don’t often think about God testing us these days. It’s not part of our concept of God and yet it is very much God’s concept of Himself. It happens all throughout the Scriptures, over and over again; testing the love of the people for God. We see one instance in our first reading from Isaiah about ‘the anointed, Cyrus.’ Such a description would have caused a great scandal among the Israelites because the anointed was the Messiah, the savior of God’s people, but Cyrus wasn’t even a Jew. He wasn’t even a believer! “It is I who arm you, though you know me not,” the Lord says of him. Talk about a test – the savior of the people chosen by God wouldn’t even believe in that God himself? Wow.
And it’s not just the Lord who puts us to the test, right? Sometimes we put God to the test, though we aren’t necessary supposed to do so. But that’s what happens in the Gospel this week. For the past few weeks, Jesus has been on the offensive, asking questions and speaking parables. But this week they come after Him with questions, beginning with that of the tax to Caesar. It was a good question because either way He answered it meant rebellion; to pay the tax was to rebel against the Jewish culture and apparently acknowledge an earthly ‘god’ in Casear, to not pay the tax was to rebel against Caesar and surely merit death. And to this quandary Jesus poses the question about whose image is there. In the coin, we see the image of Caesar and are challenged to give to Caesar what is his, but the next step is the catch – but we must give to God what belongs to God. The coin was in Caesar’s image, but what is made in God’s image? Us – you and me. And that’s the problem.
It’s hard to ‘give to God what is God’s’ because means that we must give God our entire self. Our mind, our heart, our will, our desires, our hopes, our dreams. It goes against one of our deepest desires, which is to have control. To have control means we can have some comfort in knowing what to expect of the future, we can put our trust in our own work and not have to interact with anyone higher (or so we think). So the real question here is do we trust God that much? Each night for the Church’s official Night Prayer there is a response that echoes the Psalms and the Lord Jesus on the Cross which says, “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.” I had prayed those words well over a thousand times but then one night I prayed them and looked at the crucifix and realized what was in the hands of the Lord: nails. “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.” Into your hands I place my life, my will, ever wish I have for the future, there to be nailed with your hands to the Cross and there to die, trusting that the resurrection reality you have in store for me is that much greater.
With the Synod there were three main responses and to each of them the invitation is to trust. For those who are afraid that the Church is making all sorts of seismic shifts and changes, it is an opportunity to trust that the Lord who gave the Church the Holy Spirit to lead us in all truth and promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against her will be faithful to us and protect us from the influence of the evil one. For those who are excited about the prospect of radical change in the Church, it is an opportunity to trust that the Lord who gave us the law of Love 2000 years ago has not abandoned us and that the Law that sometimes feels harsh, or exclusive is meant not to weigh us down but to lift us up into heaven. And for those who have no concern one way or the other, this time is a chance to trust that all of these things being discussed and the decisions to be made have a great importance in the life of the Church and the world.
God works in strange ways sometimes, but in those strangest of times we need only remember that it is likely a test to measure the extent of our love for the Lord. It is a test to see just how much we are willing to place our will into the crucified hands of Jesus. It is a test to see how firm we our in awareness of the Spirit’s action all around us. As we come to receive Holy Communion today it is an opportunity to unite ourselves to God not only in the flesh, but also to let our will become more conformed to His. Do we love God that much?