This is my homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 19, 2008. The readings for the day can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/101908.shtml. Thanks for reading & your feedback! God Bless, Fr Jim
“This election is the most important election you will ever vote for in your life.” In some shape or form, we’ve heard versions of that over the last few weeks (well truth be told, with how long this presidential campaign has run, it’s more likely we’ve heard that over the last few months or even years for that matter).
It’s more important than four years ago when politicians told us that was the most important election ever – and in four years we’ll be amazed to learn how much more important it is this time.
With such importance, one might be surprised at how many spoofs, parodies and cartoons there are. Some can be mean (or demeaning) – but there are some that are pretty clever and very funny.
For example, a few weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to an online political cartoon that poked fun at both presidential campaigns called “It’s time for campaignin'” After skewering President Bush, Senator Clinton, and both candidates – Barack Obama and John McCain, they got to the end/punch line of the satire singing to the tune of “The times they are a changing”:
Citizens gather from both far and near
for a ritual we practice every four years
when we promise you anything
you want to hear
to win the crown we’re chasin’
we spend billions of dollars
to make our point clear
to get you to step up and
cast your vote here
then we spin you around
and poke you in the rear
Oh it’s time for some campaignin’ (JibJab.com)1
That was probably the line I laughed at the most. Because, like all good satire and spoofs, there’s an element of truth to it. In this election environment, we’ve made a presidential campaign almost a new version of American Idol. People rate debates like “performances.” Politicians “focus-group” their campaign statements rather than speak plainly about what they believe and what they will do if they are elected. And yes, billions of dollars in advertisements which tells us precious little other than why the other guy is SO WRONG and this guy is SO RIGHT bombard us everywhere we go (anyone else getting those recorded phone messages?).
Why have these campaigns gotten so trivial, especially when it is such an important thing? We’re talking about a very powerful position. Becoming president of the United States is a very powerful position. This leader has the ability to influence not just the course of things here in the United States, but throughout the world. With a mixture of both noble purposes and incredible ambition we are left with candidates and campaigns filled with individuals who seem to be involved in some tug-of-war trying to get the polls (and, they hope, the final election results) to go the way they hope or favor.
Don’t misunderstand me – it is an important thing for us to be plugged in. It is important to vote. It is even more important to look at the issues, and to understand why the Church teaches that some issues, like the Life issue are more important than some others. And to go beyond just the 30 second commercials, the commentators, the celebrity endorsements and actually find out what the candidates support or oppose.
But what seems to be lost in all political campaigns is a true sense of where true power, true authority comes from. Because in this seemingly endless campaign, there’s a refrain repeated over and over by both politicians supporters – that if you just vote for our guy, all our problems will be solved. World Peace will be achieved! Economic certainty! And every other issue that you are concerned about, yeah, we’ll take care of all of that to.
And we become disappointed when they don’t accomplish those things. We get confused and start to wonder what are we to do? Who are we to vote for? Which candidate does Jesus want to win?
The scriptures today, comes (as it so often does) at a perfect time. While our country seems immersed in this campaign over “the most powerful position in the world” today’s scriptures remind us where true power comes from.
In the Gospel we just heard, there are two groups who are trying to in a sense trap Jesus, confine him to one side or another – They want Jesus to agree with their party, their side of things. There’s no middle ground here. There’s no bi-partisanship. They ask Jesus – Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? The two groups are the Herodians, who align themselves to Rome, and the Pharisees who were an influential group of Jewish leaders.
If Jesus said”Yes” to the question he would be aligning himself with the Romans (and basically going against the belief of every Jew who believed it was a violation of Jewish law to have to pay this and to recognize this secular authority). If he said “No” he could be arrested for going against the government.
Who’s power would Jesus bow down to? Which side would be able to win his support? Would Jesus endorse the Pharisees or the Herodians?
In a master stroke that would make the political masterminds of today be jealous, Jesus seems to side step the issue complete. He doesn’t validate the Roman taxes, but doesn’t let the Jewish people off the hook from paying it. We can look at it as an ancient example of the “triangulation” of a political issue. He says “repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what belongs to God.”
The wisdom of what Jesus is saying is lost though if we simply try to make Jesus this master politician who confounded these two parties battling each other, each believing they were more right than the other. The point Jesus is making is distorted if we as Americans try to make Jesus’ answer of “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” as the biblical support for the “separation of Church and state.”
Jesus is asking us who do we belong to? Whose image are we made in?
Are we simply a Democrat or a Republican?
Do we find our identity just in being Americans?
Is my allegiance to a group or an organization my main focus?
Or do we recognize that we are created in the image and likeness of God? And that He is beyond nationalities and ethnicities . He is beyond party affiliation, beyond any individual political platform, beyond any candidate. God tells us who he is in that first reading from Isaiah: I am the Lord, there is no other. Words like that make everything else really trivial.
In a few weeks, this election will be over (well, remembering the 2000 presidential election, I guess I should say, hopefully it will be over). And in this very charged environment, it’s likely that some will be happy and some will not with the results. As important as the election is, we give it a more exalted importance if we forget that the Caesars, or the McCain’s or Obama’s will have their time in leadership, but that the one unchanging, constant is our Heavenly Father.
Jesus isn’t saying one way or another who’s right and wrong – his answer today, as it often does asks another question of us, “what on earth does not belong to God?”2
— endnotes: 1 – “It’s time for some campaignin'” – found online at Jibjab.com
2 – quote comes from the lectionary commentary for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time found in The Workbook for Lectors and Gospel Readers LTP publications, 2008 edition