I pledge my allegiance to... whom?

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

To whom shall we pledge our allegiance?
To Caesar, to the state? Or to God, to our faith?

The Pharisees, with the help of the Herodians, were trying to trap Jesus,
to get him to say something that he’d later regret.
But Jesus didn’t fall for it . He gave a very clever response -
which some might say didn’t even really answer the question.

While the Pharisees and Herodians may have failed to trap Jesus,
they might be more successful in catching -- us !

They set up a neat dichotomy here,
leading us to questions of church and state, politics and theology.

But perhaps there’s a prior question deserving of our attention.
There are more than two realities competing for our allegiance
and the one with first claim on my loyalty
might be neither God nor the state - but rather: me, my self.

After all, isn’t it my self and loyalty to my own interests
that largely determine my allegiance to the state
- when I choose a political candidate to support;
- when I’m too busy to go out and vote;
- when I’m reporting my income on April 15th;
- when I’m breaking the speed limit
and watching the rear view for blue lights;
- when I ponder the difficult and critical differences
between freedom and license,
justice and charity,
law and mercy?

Fidelity to my own interests plays a large part
in shaping my allegiance to the state and its affairs in my life.

And isn’t it my self and loyalty to my own interests
that largely determine my allegiance to God
- when I wrestle with difficult moral issues;
- when I take a weekend off from church;
- when I determine how much I’ll share with the poor;
- when I choose between speaking out in faith
or hiding my beliefs in silence;

- when I weigh the wisdom of God
with the folly dad of the day?

Fidelity to my own interests plays a large part
in shaping my allegiance to God and God’s place in my daily life.

It’s often to our selves that we pay out the first coin of duty.
We hold a strong allegiance to ourselves:
to our wants and needs; our fantasies and desires;
to decisions and choices that favor our own circumstances;
to self-preservation, the comfort of those we love
and to insuring a pleasant future for ourselves.
Our most binding loyalty might well be to neither Caesar nor to God,
but rather, to ourselves.

So we might rephrase today’s gospel dialogue to sound like this:
“Tell us, Jesus, what is your opinion?
Is it lawful to pay allegiance to one’s self or not?”
To which Jesus replies:
“Show me the check-book with which you provide for yourself.
Whose inscription, whose name is on each check?”
“It’s my name, Lord.”
“Well, then,” says Jesus: “give to yourself what belongs to you
and give to God what belongs to God.”

Of course, that brings us back to the original question.
Who has first claim on our allegiance, our loyalty, our duty, our fidelity?

The answer is simple: everything belongs to God!
What we have, you and I, what we claim as our own,
is on loan to us from God.
I have nothing which isn’t ultimately from God
and everything I have is God’s gift to me
to be used for good and shared
especially with those who have much less than I do.

That doesn’t mean that Caesar doesn’t get some of what I have.
Nor does it mean that I don’t get some of what God’s entrusted to me.

But it does mean acknowledging that ultimately,
nothing I have (be it treasure or talent or time)
nothing I have is mine alone --
and nothing I have is beyond the claim
of someone who needs it more than I do.

If we begin to understand our selves and what we have in these terms
then, when faced with the question of
Caesar or God, state or faith, ourselves or others,
we’ll be in a better position to make good choices all around.

This would be an even more difficult point to preach
if I didn’t preach it in the shadow of the Cross of Jesus,
under the outstretched arms of him who gave up his claim to everything,
sacrificing even his own life,
because sinners, such as us, needed his life, needed his mercy,
more than anything else we might have -- or hope to have.

At this table we give back to God what God first gave to us,
gifts of bread and wine.
Here, in the Eucharist, we give to God what belongs to God:
glory and honor,
praise and thanksgiving
for all we’ve been given to share with others
and for all God has shared with us in Christ Jesus the Lord.


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