29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 19, 2014)
1 Thes 1:1-5b
I have lived in Kentucky since 2003. Since then, I have learned a phrase that seems unique to this part of the country. Every time I hear it, it puts a smile on my face. It has a number of different meanings, depending on how it’s used. One could use it to show sympathy, to show sarcasm or to try and cover up a rude comment. The phrase… “Oh bless his heart.” Here’s some examples: Sympathy – You tell someone that your child is running a 102 degree fever and is sick in bed, their response is often, “Oh bless his little heart!” Sarcasm – I heard a man speaking down to a woman as he was explaining how to change a tire on a car and her response was, “Oh bless your heart, you thought I was dumb just because I am a girl.” And the third, and most commonly used technique, is making fun of someone without trying to sound too rude. “Look at his haircut, it looks like he got into a wrestling match with a chainsaw…oh bless his heart.”
So when I was reading today’s Gospel passage, I could pretty much hear Jesus using this phrase. Let me set the scene if you missed it. There were two groups of people in the story. Pharisees, who were against paying the census tax to the Romans, and Herodians who supported Herod and paid the tax. Both groups approached Jesus to pose a question about the lawfulness of paying the tax to Caesar. So if Jesus said to pay the census tax, he would enrage the Pharisees. If he said to not pay the tax he would irritate the Herodians. It’s a no win situation if he answered yes or no. To make it worse, they tried to suck up to Jesus by praising him, telling him what a great guy he was, before asking the awkward question that they knew was sure to make at least one group mad.
Jesus’ reply (at least in the Kentucky translation in my head), “Oh bless their heart, they thought they could slip one past the Son of God.” Jesus’ actual answer was simple and yet very relevant to us today. He told the crowd to do the right thing and always do it while obeying God’s laws. Meaning, if you are supposed to pay the tax, then pay it. If you’re not, then don’t. As long as it doesn’t contradict God’s law then you are free to do it. That’s the gist of the phrase, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
Let’s try to use some modern examples to make this clearer. Finances. Is it bad or against God’s law to have money? No…as long as you earned it ethically and use your money for good. Being blessed with money means you can bless others. We are called to use our treasures to help build up the church so we can spread the Gospel far and wide. So donate to worthy charities, help out a friend in need, buy a homeless person a meal. If you are short on cash, volunteer your time at a food bank, visit our elderly at the nursing home or help with the Christmas Craft Bazaar being held at St. Andrew’s next month. You don’t have to have a lot of money to make a big difference in someone else’s life. But, if you hoard up your money without doing any good with it…I’d think again before approaching the pearly gates. “Oh bless their heart, they thought they could take their money with them when they died.”
How about another example? Universal healthcare. Is it a bad idea or does it break one of God’s laws to try and get everyone healthcare in our country? No! I would say it is a good concept and would help many people get the needed medical care to live a healthier life if they got sick or injured. But, forcing a person with a Pro-Life faith to pay for other people’s abortions in a “universal healthcare” system…absolutely not! That is over stepping God’s law and is why the U.S. Bishops are constantly voicing their concern to not force Christians who object to abortions from paying for them in any “universal healthcare” system. “Oh bless their heart, they thought they could get us Catholics to ignore our Pro-Life beliefs.”
What about living out your faith on a day-to-day basis? I’d say God would be pretty happy if we all worked a little more on this one. You see, being a Catholic means so much more than just going to Mass one hour a week. We are called to live out our faith every minute of every day whether people are watching us or we are alone. That means not cheating on tests at school, not bullying others and not being vulgar with our words or actions. It means not abusing drugs or alcohol, saving sexual intimacy for marriage and not gossiping. It means treating others with respect, being good examples and teaching our children how to love God with all their heart. In short, it means living a life Christ would be proud of because we are following His teachings and asking for forgiveness when we fall.
The problem is too many of us don’t know or understand our faith the way we should so we tend to ignore those harder teachings rather than study them. If you struggle with a teaching of the Church, maybe that’s your Guardian Angel or the Holy Spirit giving you a little nudge to learn more. After all, 2000 years of Church history guided by the Holy Spirit along with millions of Saints and Martyrs and some of the greatest theologians in the world, maybe, just maybe, might be worth listening to. “Oh bless your heart, you thought you didn’t need to study your faith after Confirmation.”
We need to stop treating our faith as a fancy coat that we only wear on certain occasions. We need to ingrain it into our bodies so that we will wear it at all times and give to God what belongs to God.
In the words of Psalm 96, “Give to the Lord, you families of nations, give to the Lord glory and praise; give to the Lord the glory due his name!”
If you do this, God will surely bless your heart…