Ordinary 29th Sunday
Ordinary 29th Sunday
Is 45: 1, 4-6 1Thes 1: 1-5a Mt 22: 15-21
We get closer to God not by professing right beliefs, but by doing the right things.
In the year 587 BC, the kingdom of Judah was completely ravaged and washed out by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. People of Judah were taken to Babylon as captives. Then around 538 BC, Babylonians were overcome by Persians, and thus the Israelites came under the rule of the Persians. Among the Persian kings, there was a kind-hearted one, whose name was Cyrus. Cyrus, with a magnanimous heart, allowed the people of Judah to get back to their country and even gave an order to rebuild their ravaged temple (Ezra 6: 3-5). It is against this background that the Israelites were inclined to think whether Cyrus was the Messiah.
In the first reading, we see Yahweh saying that it was He who chose Cyrus, though Cyrus did not know the God of the Israelites. Yahweh, through Isaiah, addresses Cyrus: “For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me,” and He continues “I arm you, though you do not know me.”
In general, both in the Bible and from the secular account, we come across Cyrus as a God-fearing, benign and kind-hearted king. Xenophon, a Greek soldier and also author, writes that Cyrus was a tolerant and ideal monarch. He was very quick to learn from the conquered peoples and did not impose himself and his ideas upon those whom he conquered. He was considered to be an epitome of the great qualities expected of a ruler in antiquity, and he assumed heroic features as a conqueror who was brave and daring as well as tolerant and magnanimous. It is said that the following are the words Cyrus himself wrote as his own epitaph: “O man, what-so-ever you are, and whence-so-ever you come, I know you will come to the same condition in which I now am. I am Cyrus.” It can be said that the first reading speaks positively of a king who was a gentile, one of those whom the Pharisees claimed to be alien to God.
The gospel shows a picture of something extremely opposite in nature. It shows how the so-called chosen race, people who claimed that they were so close to God, behaved. The very first verse of the gospel of today speaks of the cunningness and treacherous nature of the Pharisees. “Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.” They sent their own disciples along with the Herodians and tried to lay a trap for Jesus. Not much of explanation is needed about the nature of the trap. They were sure that Jesus would fall into their trap whatever his answer would be.
We also see how the Pharisees were in touch with various groups to destroy Jesus. First, they themselves raised the question about Jesus’ authority and tried to nullify his person and his teaching (Mt 21: 23-27); when they were not successful in it, they sent the Sadducees, who were their arch-enemies, in order to laugh at some of the teachings of Jesus, especially his teaching about the resurrection (Mt 22: 23-33); Next, they sent the Scribes to test Jesus (Mt 22: 34-40). It shows how the so-called pious people can behave very nastily, when they are questioned of their self-interests.
Coming to our life, sometimes, the so-called pious people may be much away from God, and the ‘gentiles’ (whom the pious judge as unworthy and contemptible) may be closer to God. In the eyes of God, what matters is how a person behaves and lives his life than what sort of religion one adheres to or what sort of belief he just professes. What one professes is not as important as how one lives. In fact, the purpose of all our religious precepts and spiritual activities is to become “aware of the power of the Holy Spirit” (second reading) and live our lives better.
Guru Nanak is the founder of Sikhism, and he opposed all sorts of sectarianism in the name of religion. Once a Muslim mullah came to him and said, “You speak of unity of religions. You say that both Hindus and Muslims are dear to you. If so, why don’t you come to a mosque and do namaz with me.” Guru Nanak readily consented. He went with the mullah to a mosque. Mullah proceeded with his namaz, keeping hands in his ears. Guru Nanak was simply standing and did not do namaz with him. The irritated mullah shouted at him, “Instead of worshipping with me, why do you stand like a log of wood?” Guru Nanak answered him, “My dear man, I would certainly pray with you if you really pray. Instead, as you recite the prayers, you think of your mare (female horse) which is to give birth and you are wondering what colour it would be!” The mullah was ashamed that his secret thinking was exposed by Guru Nanak.
The point here is not that we should not take our religious precepts and spiritual practices seriously. The point is that they are not an end in themselves, and rather they should help us to become better human beings. In the ultimate analysis what matters is how we live.
Loving Father, help us to understand that our spiritual activities are not an end in themselves, Amen