Thursday, October 23, 2008

How 'bout a bit of anxiety?

October 19, 2008
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mass Readings:
Isaiah 45:1,4-6
I Thessalonians 1:1-5b
Matthew 22:15-21

To say that society is anxious right now would be a gross understatement. The economy, politics, division amongst Christians, you can fill in the blank. I find that so many Christians are entirely too wrapped up in the world. Well, I can only speak for myself and I have come to see that I am too invested in the processes of the world and I am filled with anxiety. I hate it when I do that!

I noticed the other day that every time a political ad or a news report on the economy comes on that I have a tightness in my chest and I get unsettled, greatly unsettled. As I was sitting in my quarters and watching the news I began to realize that I am so overly invested in the world that I have become more concerned with what goes on in the world and less concerned with the "spirit of the world." As a priest, I should be more involved with proclaiming the Good News than worrying about this or that politician or whether my 401K is tanking.

Now don't hear me wrong. The economy and politics are important. The truth is that God is more important than anything! Jesus in our gospel text this morning is faced with a test. The Pharisees and the Scribes were afraid of Jesus. Afraid not because they believed he was the Son of God but that he was a rebel who would bring the wrath of the Roman Empire down on their heads. They lived in fear and anxiety of the world.

So in their attempt to get Jesus arrested, they concocted a trap. They believed that Jesus would take the bait and say something against the Roman government and be arrested and removed from their midst. So, give Jesus a coin and get him to say that paying tax to Caesar was wrong and let the Romans take care of this trouble maker. Well, Jesus did what he always did and turned the trap back on the accusers. Given a coin, Jesus declares that since Caesar's image was on the coin, give it back to him. You can almost imagine the blank stares on the faces of his accusers. Money doesn't come from God so don't try and use money against God. I see this as Jesus' way of saying that we should not be so concerned with the world that we start confusing the actions of governments or systems with God. Stop trying to use the world as a means of justifying or denying what people of faith should do.

That may sound a bit convoluted so let me explain. Recently I sat with a Palestinian pastor in Israel who said something that still lingers with me. He said: "If you put your trust in the state, you will always be disappointed." We have become so dependent on governments that we now expect politicians to do God's work for us! Huh!? This pastor was working for peace and justice and had given up on politicians and was doing what Jesus calls us to do which is to get busy, do the Father's will and proclaim the Good News of salvation through Jesus! The systems of the world will not do the work because that isn't the way it is suppose to work. Now I am not saying that politics and other worldly responsibilities are not important because they most certainly are. What I am trying to say is that we are the Body of Christ. We are the one's who are to be busy about our Heavenly Father's work and not look to some elected official to do it for us. We as believers of the Risen Lord are to practice what we preach and be the agents of change in the world. To put our trust in people or systems in which God is not the sole focus is wrong. Washington D.C. and Wall Street are not the god we are called to worship.

As we become so focused on the world we are battered by fear and anxiety because we have placed our trust in that which is temporary and will always fail or disappoint. Only God is eternal and only God can give life and certainty. That doesn't mean we are not to be concerned with the world. We are to be involved but not dependant on the world. Our dependence is upon God' love and mercy.

If we want a world that is in the image of the Risen Lord then we are to be the agents of change. Legislation will not bring about God's Kingdom on earth. It is only through the faithfulness of the Body of Christ, working and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ without ceasing and with compassion, civility and courage that we will see the change this broken and anxious world needs.

The Roman Empire would not last forever. No government or country is eternal. Only the Kingdom of God is eternal and only God can give life and hope. Only through our obedience to Christ and living a life that is authentic and faithful to the Good News will we see true change. The state will not bring that change. The Good News cannot be legislated. No politician or investment bank can bring security of spirit. Only faithfulness and authentic living in the name of Jesus will bring what we need.

Now, all that said, we should not be isolated from the world. We, as the Body of Christ must be willing to proclaim the Lord with compassion, civility and courage. We are to protest when needed, get involved with just legislation and proclaim a culture of life and love in Christ. We Catholic Christians are called to be a faithful witness to God's goodness and be the very image of Christ to the world. It is our responsibility to build a world founded on God's love and justice. It is our faith that propels us to work in the name of the Good News and be authentic and strive to do the Lord's will and not our own. The problem comes when we forget the Lord and start seeing politics or investments as the way to fulfillment. If we do that, then we are sentenced to a life of anxiety and violence, division and failure.

I may still be anxious and worried at times but I cannot lose sight of why I exist in the first place. All of us are created in God's image. Every single person on this planet is a child of God. Yes, even those we call our enemies. God is the only source of life. All people should hear the Good News and be given the chance to share in the abundant life of Christ and this will not be done through politics or money. It will only be realized when we take our baptismal call seriously and get busy and do the work of Christ wholly and solely in His holy and sacred name. Then, and only then, will healing, glorious, trans formative change come to be.

We will be anxious, we will be afraid but the Lord promises that if we are faithful to him, then and only then will we never be disappointed.

God bless you and keep you. May you always find peace, hope and above all fullness of life that comes only from knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.