Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

We all make deci­sions; we all make choic­es. Some­times we make good choic­es. Some­times we make bad choic­es. A friend of mine and his wife adopt­ed three young chil­dren. That state­ment should make the Catholic heart beam. It is a hero­ic act of virtue to take on respon­si­bil­i­ty to raise three young chil­dren who come from a dif­fi­cult place. It takes great grace to wel­come three strangers into your heart and love them like they are your own. But this is not a hap­py sto­ry.

My point today is not to cel­e­brate my friend and his wife or to describe the suc­cess­es of their fam­i­ly, although they cer­tain­ly deserve it. Today, I’d like to tell you a lit­tle bit about the children’s moth­er.

The adop­tion effort was a long process and there were many choic­es made. There were no fathers in the pic­ture and the moth­er had a long his­to­ry of drug abuse. The moth­er made the choice to give the chil­dren up for adop­tion in hopes that they would have a bet­ter life with­out her than they would with her.

Think about that for a moment, because it’s trag­ic: a moth­er who is in such a bad place because of a long path of choic­es and deci­sions that she decides her chil­dren are bet­ter off with­out her than they are with her. And to the best of my abil­i­ty to dis­cern, she was right.

The chil­dren were adopt­ed. Years passed. The youngest child, who was an infant at the time of adop­tion, is now start­ing school. Of course the moth­er want­ed to see her chil­dren… to have some sort of rela­tion­ship with them, even if she couldn’t raise them. And my friends were open to that, with only one con­di­tion: she had to be clean. No drugs. In short, she had to make the hard choic­es and deci­sions to over­come her addic­tion.

And that brings us to last Fri­day. I wish I could tell you there was a hap­py reunion. There was not. The children’s bio­log­i­cal mother’s mor­tal remains were found under a bridge off I‑35, and the cause of death was a drug over­dose.  

Choic­es and deci­sions. These are core to who we are. Con­sid­er one of our reli­gious sis­ters – what makes her dif­fer­ent than the moth­er I just described? Bio­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal dif­fer­ences are minor; the real dif­fer­ence is the series of choic­es and deci­sions that car­ried them through life to the place they are now. You could per­haps argue that envi­ron­ment plays a key role, and to some extent it does. But when you talk about envi­ron­ment all you real­ly mean are the choic­es and deci­sions made by pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions that still impact us today, just as our choic­es and deci­sions will impact future gen­er­a­tions.

And what is the dif­fer­ence between the reli­gious sis­ter and the deceased moth­er? Jesus loves them both equal­ly, and so you and I should also. To do any less is to fail Jesus and the call he makes to us. I would argue that in our reli­gious sis­ters, you see a shin­ing exam­ple of the result of the cul­ture of life while in the deceased moth­er, you see a trag­ic vic­tim of the cul­ture of death.

What does any of this have to do with today’s Gospel? Every­thing. Today’s Gospel is all about choic­es and deci­sions, and the impor­tance of right­ly choos­ing. In today’s Gospel, we see played out a bat­tle of the cul­ture of death against the cul­ture of life. This is a bat­tle as old as man, and a bat­tle we will all fight until God calls us to our eter­nal home.

It has been argued that today’s Gospel gives us license to make deci­sions in our busi­ness life, or in our social life, or in our polit­i­cal life that are counter to the deci­sions we would make in our reli­gious life. Such an argu­ment is entire­ly wrong. First­ly, because to even pose the ques­tion neces­si­tates frag­ment­ing our­self into a col­lec­tion of com­pet­ing inter­ests, which is an absurd propo­si­tion. We are all of us human beings and as such we have one life. We aren’t com­put­ers with a col­lec­tion of pro­grams all com­pet­ing for run­time. We have one life, and it should be lived for life… not for death.

Sec­ond, the argu­ment depends on there being any case where some­thing can be giv­en a high­er pri­or­i­ty than God Him­self. There is no dif­fer­ence between liv­ing a life for God and liv­ing a life for the cul­ture of life. Like­wise, sup­port­ing the cul­ture of death means act­ing against God, and that is nev­er a moral act.

The Phar­isees think they will trick Jesus. If He sup­ports pay­ing tax­es, He sup­ports a Roman occu­pa­tion of the Holy Land and He sup­ports a for­eign, and pagan, emper­or. Not a good look for a Mes­si­ah. If he doesn’t sup­port pay­ing tax­es, then he’s a rebel out to tear down the gov­ern­ment and the Romans will do the Phar­isees’ dirty work for them. It’s a no-win sit­u­a­tion.

Of course, Jesus wins.

He turns the tables on the Phar­isees. He asks to see the coin with which the tax­es are paid and the Phar­isees have no trou­ble pro­duc­ing it. They have it ready at hand. Their argu­ment is begin­ning to crack at the seams.

Jesus asks who’s pic­ture is on the coin and the Phar­isees respond that it is Caesar’s. Their ques­tion had to do with the law­ful­ness in terms of God’s law in pay­ing tax­es, but here they are with a coin that depicts a per­son dei­fied by the pagans. A graven image and a pagan sym­bol is cer­tain­ly counter to the law of God. Their argu­ment is begin­ning to crum­ble.

And when Our Lord tells them to give unto Cae­sar what belongs to Cae­sar and unto God what belongs to God, their argu­ment is com­plete­ly destroyed. He isn’t telling them there is a valid divi­sion between their polit­i­cal life and their reli­gious life; He is telling them exact­ly the oppo­site. He is telling them that noth­ing is more impor­tant than their reli­gious life. Pre­cise­ly the same is true for you and me.

Jesus didn’t give us wig­gle room to say, “The Church teach­es this but I think that.” What we are called to do is to live our life – our one, uni­fied life – for Our Lord and to always make our choic­es and deci­sions in such a way that we advance the King­dom of God and nev­er sup­port a cul­ture of death.

Let’s revis­it the children’s bio­log­i­cal moth­er for just a moment. I would nev­er pre­sume to judge the state of anoth­er person’s soul. I want to make that absolute­ly clear. How­ev­er, I under­stand intel­lec­tu­al­ly that in a life that ends with a drug over­dose under a bridge, bad deci­sions were made along the way. Now, I don’t know what any of those deci­sions might have been. Every­thing I know about that moth­er I have told you today.

Yet I also know that the moth­er made three choic­es for life – one for the birth of each of her chil­dren – and three sac­ri­fi­cial choic­es in love: to give each of them up so that they might have a bet­ter life than she had. And there is great mer­it in each of those choic­es, because they were made in love for life. That is pre­cise­ly what God calls each one of us to do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *