In Todays Gospel Story Jesus, responding to an attempt to trick him up, says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”. We hear this Story in the setting of terrible violence happening around the world in Israel and Gaza, Ukraine, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, and other countries as well as locally where, among other things, several high schools have had to cancel football games, homecomings, and other events because of violence and shootings. The collective mood seemed to be one of anger, fear, isolation. With such violence, each of us is affected in some way.
Jesus tells us to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”. These two might not be all that far apart. What is God’s is the call to live the Gospel that Jesus showed when he was among us. He calls me to imitate him in my dealings with everybody, no exceptions. What is Caesar’s also is the call to live the Gospel that Jesus showed us, and to do it without exception. Every one around me, every one I meet, including Caesar’s people, is probably carrying a burden of some sort that I know nothing about. Perhaps I can render to Caesar the kindness I experience from God in my life. This does not means anything like consenting to wrong or evil being done by anybody, any system, even or especially Caesar. It does mean asking the Spirit to guide me in how I live our caring and kindness.
Could it be that what I am to give to Caesar is the love I am receiving from God, the love that I see happening in Jesus, and maybe even experience in my own life? On my journey I am becoming aware of such terrible suffering in Israel and Gaza which governments are imposing on people who, other than being victims of the violence, have no connection with it and certainly are not causing it? Could it also be that I am to give that same love also to Caesar and his minions who for any number of reasons are causing the terrible violence? God has compassion for everybody on all sides of these terrible issues. In my own daily living do I even know what God’s love is or how God is calling me to live it? Might I simply ask for the gifts of caring and compassion?
God is being God in this terrible violence through good people doing simple yet important things with the others around them. Kindness and caring, as Jesus showed us, are positive acts of strength that cannot happen out of weakness. These days, especially, as I take part in my cardiac rehab, I am experiencing kindness and caring from some very strong women. I see the positive effect it has on me and on the others in the program. These strong, kind, and caring women are an inspiration to me, and I wish I had their lighthearted strength. God is being God for me and for many others through these women. As I reflect on all this, I’m becoming aware of many other strong women who, like the cardiac nurses, are not someone to mess with, who are living their own way of kindness. There is a lady butcher and social activist who provides safe and welcoming spaces for so many people. Then there is a amazing woman who is devoting her life to caring kindness for young people trying to discern who they are. There is the wonderful woman who provides pastoral care where I live, and does it with joy. There is a woman for many years a music minister in a large diocese who was abruptly terminated when the diocese learned she was living with her wife. She has turned her suffering into a pastoral presence and part of the healing process for many, sharing with others the healing caring she experiences in her own life. There is also the college professor caring for her husband who is undergoing chemo and radiation to deal with his cancer, and who says she cannot imagine her life without him. And the list goes on. This is not to imply that kindness is for women, but that we men can learn a lot from others. Kindness takes strength, and it doesn’t always use religious words.
Something else that is going on these days is the Synod where Pope Francis is calling the church to be a church that listens to the Spirit speaking in everybody. Maybe in all this the Spirit is calling me to listen, and not judge, categorize, or try to explain, just to listen, to be present, and so be open to the Spirit in everything. Everybody has their own story to tell, and perhaps the Spirit in me is calling me to listen to the Spirit in them.
None of this is easy, especially for me. I’m not that kind of a guy — yet. Maybe I never will be. But I think I have to try to move in that direction. Giving to God what is God’s is not a one shot deal. It is a life long process, a journey that I am called to make. This journey is with all the people who are, were, will be, in my life from time to time. Everyone in my life is there because, in the providence of God, we need each other. Each of us in our own way is the presence of God to others in our life. I believe this, but realizing it is not even remotely easy, yet it is a call I have to respond to. I don’t know how, other than to ask for the grace of being open to the Spirit, and for the gifts of love and compassion, and go wherever this takes me. I cannot reject anybody, though some religious traditions, including my own, would seem to.
Perhaps my cardiac situation is a gift to help me realize both how far I am from what I am called to be, and the urgency to move in that direction. I have met, both in Florida and the CLE, and still am meeting, wonderful people I would not have known without it. They show me their unique and beautiful faces of God, which they probably are not even aware of. I hope I can learn from them and repay them in some way. Think I need to work on being kind and gentle. Not sure I can do that. Glad God has patience and a sense of humor, so maybe I have a chance. More wandering, wondering, doubting, questioning. Just sayin . . .