Homily for XXIX (29) Sunday Year A. (WORLD MISSION SUNDAY) 18-10-2020 by Fr. Lubem Robert Waya, osj.
First Reading: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Psalm: Psalm 95(96):1, 3-5, 7-10
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5
Gospel: Matthew 22:15-21
Today we celebrate world mission Sunday, a day on which we recall the missionary mandate given to the Church by Christ to go and make disciples of all nations (cf. Matthew 28:19-20). Mission means ‘to be sent,’ and this defines the unique nature of the Church sent to all humanity. As members of the Church this reminds us that we are also missionaries just like the women and the apostles who were the first disciples and collaborators with Christ. The Lord does not call the equipped, instead He equips those He calls. He surprised the world by calling mainly the low class through whom He was able to spread the good news. Like them we all have also been called to be missionaries. We must therefore ask ourselves how faithful we have been to our missionary vocation.
Not long ago on Christianity’s holiest day precisely on Easter Sunday the 1st of April 2018, the Holy Father Pope Francis during the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing to the city and the world, reflecting on the Easter theme from the balcony of St. Peter’s basilica reminded us that ‘the resurrection of Christ was a massive surprise to all including His closest associates.’ Such surprises which always follow every of God’s attempts at revealing Himself to us are meant to stir us to action, to move out of ourselves as they did to the women who went to the tomb and to the apostles. He then concluded that ‘Our God is a God of surprises.’ This is the missionary movement of taking the good news with us to others. We find these surprises in our readings of today as well.
From the opening words of our first reading from the second part of Isaiah, we are surprised that the Lord could choose an unbeliever King Cyrus to be His instrument. Isaiah puts it that the Lord spoke to His anointed Cyrus. This no doubt appears strange and unfamiliar and yet curious since we know that Cyrus was the pagan king of Persia. So how can someone who doesn’t believe in God become the anointed one as God’s own envoy? It was for a divine purpose, and this time it was for the sake of the Lord’s servant Jacob, whose descendants Israel had been taken into captivity in Babylon. They believed that this was a punishment for their offences and they turned to the Lord their God in prayer and supplication for deliverance and the Lord who always hears prayers heard them as the prophets had prophesied. There was no human possible way in view, yet the Lord who can make a way where there seems to be no way surprised them by touching the heart of a pagan king and raising him up as a saviour to deliver them from Babylon and resettle them in their land.
If God could touch the heart of a pagan King to acknowledge Him and work for Him as the one true God, what do you think God cannot do? This development marked a key point in Israel’s understanding of God too whom before now they had thought was their God alone. But what of other nations and peoples? If the same God created them, it means He is their God as well even if they do not know Him. So, the surprised Israel now realized that God was not just the God of Israel but of the whole world including the unbelievers and pagans alike. Therefore, God can make use of anyone at all even a pagan, to accomplish His missionary work.
God Has called us too to be His missionaries. However, at times we fail to respond to His call because sometimes we like the Pharisees and the Herodians in the gospel today find it hard to understand God because we often limit Him to our own terms. Even though they were sects apart with nothing in common, today they found a common ground in plotting to trap Jesus. Ironically, it was Jesus who united them. Trickily they asked Him whether or not it is right to give taxes to Caesar. If He answers that it is permissible, then He is guilty of co-operating with their oppressors and He will lose credibility before the Jews. If He answers that it is not permissible then He will be guilty of rebellion and can be denounced by the Roman authorities. However, using divine wisdom which He is, Jesus knew their plan and He surprised them when He turned to them saying, “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Caesar here whose image was on the coin represents the constituted civil authority. He was telling them to recognize their responsibilities to the state, and more than this, recognize their responsibilities to their God since each human being is God's image. This means as St. Paul tells us in Romans 13:1 ‘let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.’
The challenge in the world today however comes from where to draw the line between what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar. Every now and then we hear even governments that advance no human good laying claim to this portion of scripture. They however forget what St. Paul reminds us that there is no authority except that which God has established. The authority established by God is known by what it stands for, what it represents and the fruits it produces. Clearly therefore a government which stands for and promotes anti-human policies that are against the progress of peoples is not established by God. In this vein, any government that advances policies that run contrary to the basic truths underlying the fundamental human values of respect for and protection of the sacredness of human life from the cradle to the grave, human dignity and freedom, as well as human diversity and equality, is not established by God and lacks the moral probity to lead us to authentic progress. In our day when this has become common place, we must refuse to be confused or cowed into fear but learn to stand up for our God given rights whenever any government attacks these values. This is another form of being missionaries to the world of today. We must uphold these basic truths, preach them and live them out concretely in our lives. We cannot do this if we do not have faith and trust in the One who has called us and whose image we are. When we trust Him, He will surprise us as He did when He turned the heart of Cyrus for His people Israel, and transformed the once very hostile to Christianity Roman Empire, to becoming a “missionary vehicle” for the spread of the Kingdom. Once all the territories of the world were conquered and under Rome, there was unity and ‘Pax Romana’ – the general peace which created the enabling environment for the Christian missionaries to spread the Good news of Christ. Ask yourself today what you are doing for the spread of the Good news of Jesus on earth. Do you give to the mission by going or do you go by giving? At all cost, strive to do your bit, for if God could use Cyrus who was a pagan and turn the pagan territory of the Romans into a missionary vanguard, He can use you too if you make yourself available. May the Lord touch our hearts to awaken our missionary spirit, bless and protect all missionaries across the world and all who continue to support the work of mission through God’s missionaries. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.