The Greatest Tool

Homily for October 22, 2017 (29th Sun. in Ordinary Time)
Isa. 45:1, 4-6; Ps. 96; 1 Thes. 1:1-5b; Matt. 22:15-21.

Today is World Mission Day, a time to reflect more deeply on the evangelical vocation of our Christian faith.  Pope Francis writes: “The Church’s mission, directed to all men and women of good will, is based on the transformative power of the Gospel” through a personal encounter with Jesus Christ (1, 4).   He reminds us that the Church is always at the service of the mission that Jesus gave to us.  We are not an end in ourselves (7).

We are all missionaries!  Each of us can be used by God in some way, even in a way that we don’t expect.  Our first reading from Isaiah depicts the Persian King Cyrus as God’s anointed one or a messiah.  Cyrus defeated the Babylonians six centuries before the time of Jesus and reversed the policies of pillage and deportation implemented by the Assyrians and later the Babylonians.  He allowed the people of Israel to return home from their exile, and they rebuilt Jerusalem and their beloved Temple.  Cyrus was a gentile, but God used him to be an instrument of salvation for God’s people.

In our gospel reading, Jesus used the image Caesar on a coin to make a point about our allegiances and to avoid a trap that the Pharisees tried to set for him. If he said that the payment of the census tax was OK, some would call him collaborator with the Roman oppressors.  If he said that it wasn’t OK, others would accuse him of being a political subversive and an enemy of the state.  Jesus resisted stepping into their trap.

But Jesus did more than sidestep the debate:  he changed its terms.  He acknowledged that secular authority has its place, but he also insisted that our ultimate allegiance must always and everywhere be to God.  The mission of the Church, as St. Paul notes in our second reading, is to bring the Gospel to the world “in power, and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.”

Do we own that mission?  Do we feel that power?  Do we trust that the Holy Spirit is with us?  Do we have that conviction?

Through our prayers and gifts, we support the efforts of missionaries in different parts of the world.  But we can never forget that the need for missionaries is as real at 55th and Western as it is in China.  Evangelization is just as important in the places we live, work, study and play as it is in places and among people we will never see.  We are called not only to evangelize but also also called to allow ourselves to be evangelized.

In his Mission Sunday statement, Pope Francis recalled the example of a young man in Africa who offered his life to save the life of another young man from an enemy tribe who was about to be killed.  It’s a powerful reminder that the greatest tool of any evangelist or missionary is not a book, a program or an app.  It’s how we live. +