Gospel text: Matthew 22.1-20
22 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”
21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Reflection by Fr Terry Tastard:
The state of the world is rarely a matter for peace of mind. Advances in one area seem to bring setbacks in another. In the Middle East, for example, the Arab Spring has given voice to people calling for democracy and freedom. Yet one result seems to have been renewed persecution of the Christian minority, as witnessed by the recent appalling scenes in Cairo. There is an uncertainty about our times, a sense of grappling with new issues, of asking questions without answers. We wonder where it will all end, and we feel uneasy.
At times like this it is important to remember that God is our Creator. Our Creator not just in the sense of calling everything that is into life, but in the sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit, brooding over our world, working with human frailties, inspiring and challenging, judging and confronting. This does not guarantee that our world will be free from disaster brought on by human arrogance, nor does it mean that hatred will always be thwarted. It does mean that God's hand will always bring us back from the brink. It also means that God can work surprising reversals, even when the world least expects it.
Take the example of Cyrus in today's first reading (Isaiah 45.1, 4-6). The people of Judah were in exile in Babylon. Jerusalem had been in ruins for 60 years. The Babylonians seemed to have an iron grip on everyone everywhere. Then in 539 BC the Persian king Cyrus defeated the Babylonians. He listened to the Jews he found in Babylon, and understood their longing to return. Not only did he encourage them to go back and rebuild Jerusalem: he even restored to them the sacred vessels which had been taken from the Temple. No wonder the prophet saw the hand of God in this.
Yet this was only seen in retrospect, after the event. In the here and now we have to be careful not to identify secular power with the will of God. In today’s gospel the spies of the ruling elite in Palestine sought to trap Jesus. If he said he was against the Roman empire, he would be condemned as a rabble-rouser. If he said that he was for it, he would lose the trust of those who sometimes felt the lash of Roman rule. His reply (Matthew 22.21) left them floundering. It tells us that we are neither to be subversive of society, nor are we to follow every whim of those in power. Rather, we have to try to discern, again and again, what the will of God is for our times and our country.
Empires rise and fall, but another city grows quietly, and it is the City of God. In times and in bad, in peace and in strife, the followers of Jesus are building bridges and nurturing hope. Salonika today is a busy seaport in northeastern Greece. It was the same when Paul encouraged the fledgling Christian community there two millennia ago. There, in an ordinary bustling city, the Church was growing. It must have seemed a tiny, uncertain seed that he had sown. Yet these new Christians grew until nearly the whole city was Christian. Paul gives thanks that these first Christians were showing faith, love and hope in action, (1 Thess. 1.3, our second reading today). Faith, hope, love - these build the invisible kingdom where no storm can reach.
Fr Terry Tastard is parish priest at St Mary's in Finchley East, England. Fr Terry's latest book: Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing.