Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Tuesday in the 9th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs
Hacking or Homeless


Readings: 2 Peter 3:12-15a, 17-18; Psalms 90:2, 3-4, 10, 14 and 16; Mark 12:13-17
Picture: CC mypointyshoes

To feel more at home in a new house, it’s sometimes necessary and desirable to subject it to extensive renovations. But such works have to be carefully done. It’s not every wall and pillar that can be hacked away. As contractors or engineers will tell us, some features cannot be removed without threatening the structural integrity of the building. Imagine how ridiculous it would be for a homeowner to respond to such expert advice by saying that s/he wants to go ahead anyway, either because she wants her home to be more comfortable, or that the neighbours are doing the same thing.

Our gospel today presents something of a similar situation. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. This well-known response of Jesus’ is often used, quite appropriately, to refer to the principle of the separation between Church and State. But perhaps it has a wider significance. Perhaps it also has to do with home renovation of a sort. What is at issue is whether or not the payment of taxes to the Roman government will threaten the structural integrity of the Jewish people. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Must or can we pay and still remain members of God’s chosen people? Jesus’ response is surprising because it indicates the possibility that the payment of taxes to a foreign government is not necessarily an act of betrayal of one’s religious identity. It’s not quite a structural pillar.

The martyrs whom we celebrate today faced a similar type of question. Serving in the court of a tyrannical king who was also a pedophile, they faced the question of whether it was possible to condone the king’s perverted tendencies without threatening their own identity as Christians. Their answer was in the negative. They chose to protect the victims and to stand up to the tyrant. And they paid the ultimate price for their defiance. In refusing to demolish what they considered a crucial structural pillar of their faith, they endured homelessness and discomfort to the point of death.

In our own time, we too are subject to various impulses to renovate our homes, to experiment with tearing down various walls and pillars. Some of these impulses are permissible, even desirable. Others are highly dangerous. The challenge is to identify which is which. When Caesar says it’s permissible to abort our babies, for example, we Christians know quite well that we cannot acquiesce without rendering our Christian identity structurally unsafe. And, on the other hand, we should know better than to heed various voices, pharisaical or otherwise, that might advocate a total withdrawal from the contemporary world. But there are also impulses that seem more ambiguous. When, for example, society tells us that it’s important to put our children through every manner of training and tuition, of extra-curricular activities and enrichment courses, to what extent should we give in? When our culture values working long hours at the expense of relaxation and relationships, how far may we go along and still remain Christian, or even human?

Asking such questions will necessarily place us in situations of tension. We will experience discomfort and a sense of homelessness. But perhaps that is as it should be. As our first reading reminds us, we are waiting for… the new heavens and new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home. And if our true home is still in the future, perhaps our part is not so much to make ourselves comfortable in the here and now as it is to live out what we proclaimed in the response to the psalm: O Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to the next. For it is in making Christ our home that we learn prudently to negotiate the tensions of our earthly existence.

How and in whom do we make our home in the world today?

1 comment:

  1. Fr Chris, your post today reminds me of a saying of St Augustiine: "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."

    Today is a rather strange day for me. For once, in what seems like a long long time, the thought of "What if all that I have believed is not true?" suddenly came to mind. I wondered whether I've gone mad either earlier or now! Perhaps for you, even if it were so, you would not have wasted your life because you've managed to touch the lives of many for the better. For me, I feel the need to re-ponder whether the issues which I've stood up for (or not stood up for) are essentials or non-essentials, and whether I've handled them with charity.

    The relatively recent persecution of St Charles Lwanga and companions in Uganda in 1885 is a stark reminder that persecution of Christians continues in modern times. Their stories of the love, forgiveness, and absolute trust in the Lord are so moving. Lord, help my unbelief!

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