It is easy to say "I Love God" and fool ourselves, because we are loving an image of God we've created. To love others is the true test, and training ground, of how we learn to love, by laying down our lives for others. Jesus goes on to ask his disciples to lay down their life for Him, and His Kingdom. This is impossible for us to do on our own. There is a Secret. We can encounter God's love so powerfully, that changed by this Love, we learn to Love more like Christ.
Jesus's statement 'Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's' might be better translated, 'But give to God what is God's'. Jesus is not saying they can be separate, but that the more important questions that are we 'paying tax to Caesar' is are we paying our due ('tax') to God? Of course God does not force us like the Caesar of the world to pay our due, we are invited to do it voluntarily out of Love. This Gospel has more to say also. The image of a coin with Caesar's image is meant to call to mind in whose Image we are Made, and let that image be our highest standard, so that it may transform the world, not the world transform us.
The last three weeks Jesus has talked about the Kingdom of God being like working in a vineyard. Today we hear it is a Party! Ultimately, God is love and desired for us to live in perfect Love of Him, and one another. That was how Paradise was meant to be. It will be restored again in heaven, it is like a wedding feast and we are invited. Let this certainty be the source of our Hope, Joy and yes, LOVE!
Jesus tells a parable that is really more like an allegory showing us all that God has done for us, and despite all that God has done; given us creation, put us in paradise, sent the prophets after our fall, and finally His Own Son, whom instead of accepting, we crucified. God askes in the first reading; "What more could I have done?" Isaiah's parable in the first reading, is the basis of Jesus' in the Gospel, and both Isaiah and Jesus say that the purpose of our lives is to bear fruit, works of Justice. Justice is Love's minimum requirement. But God goes beyond Justice and Loves completely. We too, are invited by His Grace to do the same; Love and bear fruit.
In today's parable Jesus challenges us to not just be Christian in name, but also in deeds. Another preacher once asked; 'If Christianity were illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict you of a crime?' It is easy for us to go through life as Christian in name, but never getting to a point of a Yes to God, putting God first and seeking to do his will. But how do we know God's will? This homily gives a few suggestions, but also know that as Thomas Merton prayed, even the desire to do God's will is pleasing to God. So let us say "Yes Lord, I desire to do your will. Help me."
This parable, of the workers who arrive in the last hour getting paid the same as those who've worked all day, appears to our human way of thinking to see the owner (God) behaving unjustly, but after the explanation offered, we see it correctly, it is not God being unjust, but Generous. How many other situations in our real life, do we look at similarly, and grumble to God about, thus failing to see His Blessings on us and others? But this parable also has a difficult challenge; could it be that we are the ones in this passage who are actually idle; whom God is still inviting into His Vineyard??? Those in the vineyard are asked to do God's work; that is to similarly seek out those who need to receive God's Generosity.
Today's readings are very challenging pointing out to us our RESPONSIBILITY to point out to others when they are sinning. We don't like to do this, but we are called to and Jesus helps us to make the process more loving. The Church does have a teaching function, called the Magisterium, which is an authentic teacher for all of us, calling us to see our sins, repent and form our consciences. But the goal is always to be a more loving and united church. We should also use the authority of the church to pray with and encourage others, maybe then we will find we need to correct less often.
Peter is chastised by Jesus, while just last week Jesus praised Peter. God does both to those He loves. He loves us where we are, but loves us too much to leave us where we are! He wants to help us see our lives and the world more like He does. The first reading is from the Prophet Jeremiah. What is the Prophetic word for today's troubled times? The way of Jesus that Peter does not understand, is the way of the Cross. Suffering, if we draw closer to Christ, can lead to New Life, and Resurrection. God has throughout history at times chastised His people, allowing suffering to bring them back to Himself. Perhaps that is what God is doing. If so, how can we respond?
Jesus asks Peter and the disciples; "Who do you say I am?" Than Jesus says you are Rock on which I will build my church. This also is the fundamental question we must answer to wisely answer "What will I do with my life". But this passage goes further. We see Jesus intended to build a "called community" the Church, he established it on the foundation of the Apostles, and gave it Authority. We sometimes think of the Church as optional, as long as we "Believe in Jesus". But if we believe in Jesus we also follow His will, which is to establish and build His Church. That too is our vocation, our call, each in our own way.
A pagan woman who was not supposed to approach Jesus, has the faith and love of her daughter to do so anyway, despite what seems like a rebuff from Jesus. Her great faith in the midst of opposition, and even when at first not being heard by God, is an example for all of us of the power of persistence in prayer, believing that God will hear, and do - if not what we ask - but SOMETHING! And in that process we will experience the power of God increasing our Faith, Hope and Love.