COMPARTMENTALIZING YOUR LIFE (Matthew 22:15-21): 19 October 2008 (Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
In today’s Gospel reading, our Lord utters his famous line: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and repay to God what belongs to God.” At first glance, he seems to be proposing a division between our usual lives and our so-called spiritual lives. Sort of like Sunday Christianity, when people act like Christians only when they go to Sunday services. As for the rest of the week, they act “normally”–that is, not in any particularly religious or even moral way.
Based on that famous line, our Lord can also be just as easily misinterpreted as advocating some kind of “shopping list” or “cafeteria” Catholicism, a term that refers to the widespread phenomenon among Catholics who pick from the Church’s list of teachings what they would like to follow and apply in their lives. The rest of the teachings? Well, never mind…
Upon more careful reflection, we can’t help but wonder if this is really what the Lord means. Many of us would like to think so since it’s certainly a more convenient way of living out our faith. But if we know the Lord, we are probably a bit suspicious, to say th eleast. He has, after all, been known to be quite demanding, hasn’t he?
Here’s my guess: Maybe the Lord isn’t asking us to take him literally. Far from telling us to compartmentalize our lives, maybe the Lord is telling us precisely the opposite: What, after all, is God’s? What belongs to him? When we think about it, doesn’t everything–all that we have and all that we are–in fact, belong to him? So when the Lord says, “Render unto Caesar’s what is Caesars, and unto God what is God’s,” could he be challenging us precisely to recognize this most demanding of truths–that everything belongs to God, and everything, therefore, ought to be rendered–offered, consecrated, dedicated, repaid–to him?
Many of us may rush in and agree enthusiastically: Of course everything we have and everything we are belong to the Lord! And of course we should then offer and repay everything to him!
Not so fast! When we talk about repaying or rendering to the Lord what is his, it doesn’t simply mean making a mental note that everything belongs to him. Neither does it simply entail paying lip service to it–you know, beginning or ending each day by praying, “Well, Lord, as you already know, I offer everything to you!” Rather, as the poll at the beginning of this blog hints at, rendering to the Lord means actually making decisions and taking action according to what God wills. In other words, if you really want to estimate how much of your life you are dedicating to the Lord, examine the decisions you have made and the actions you have taken. Making every decision and taking every action according to the Lord’s will is a little bit more complex and a little bit more difficult than intending or desiring to do so, to say the least. It takes determination, and based on my own experience, a lot of prayer and practice.
So here’s a Quick Question for you: “If you wish today to take that first step towards ‘rendering everything to God’, what would that one small first step be? It may mean starting something, stopping it, or continuing something that you’ve already begun. Think about it, and if you feel up to it, share a thought, a feeling, or even a question.