Let God’s Grace Cleanse Our Eyes

Let God’s Grace Cleanse Our Eyes

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)  |  Fr Timothy Radcliffe urges us to learn from the destitute and the victims of Hurricane Harvey to see God in the world more clearly.

Today’s gospel, in which Jesus’ enemies try to entrap him by asking whether they should pay tax to Caesar or not, is often read as making a distinction between politics and religion. There is Caesar’s world and that of God. Priests should keep out of politics and stick to spirituality. But this to misunderstand what Jesus is saying. Every human being is made in the image of God and so belongs to God. For Christians, politics is building the polis, the community, in which God’s own children can live in dignity and happiness, as we await God’s gift of the heavenly city, in which all politics will be finished and, thanks be to God, there will be no more party conferences! Isaiah shows God immersed in the great events of his time, the rise of Cyrus, the Persian ruler who transformed the political map of the Middle East  and enabled the exiled Israelites to go home. Religion cannot be reduced to politics, but it has consequences for how we understand the point of politics.

So what is this clash between Jesus and his enemies about? They give us the clue: ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.’ They contrast two ways of seeing the world: God’s true way, and a human way, in which everything is viewed through the prism of wealth and status. Jesus’s opponents are caught up in that human way, speedily producing Caesar’s coin from their pocket, although that image would have polluted them. The Herodians especially belonged to the world of wealth and power. They are so blinded that they do not see that the man they are trying to trap is himself the very image of God made human.

If one sees the world through the spectacles of status and money, the poor disappear. Etienne Grieu SJ wrote: ‘A world dominated by competition engages in a formidable task of classification, not only of performances but also of people. Right at the bottom of the chart are those who are not efficient enough. They thus become invisible to others, as they are unable to demonstrate their usefulness in any of the various exchanges we take part in… They also feel humiliated because they scarcely can have the means to say who they are or to make people notice the unique treasure they bear.’

We are all, in varying degrees, bifocal. Sometimes we are bewitched by the Caesars of our time, the wealthy and the famous, and lose sight of the beauty of those who do not count. There is a destitute man who lives on the street outside Blackfriars, called Carl. Last week I found him weeping. A passer-by had urinated on him. But sometimes the veil lifts and we glimpse another’s concealed dignity, the secret beauty under the grime, the radiance under what seems banal or mediocre. Let God’s grace cleanse our eyes.

A month ago I attended a meeting of Catholic Charities USA in Houston. We were lodged downtown. The skyscape was dominated by vast towers, emblazoned with the names of powerful corporations, the streets filled with glittering shops and enormous cars. Advertisements flashed their wares. In this world of Caesar’s coin, the people living on the street and in tents under the overpasses, seemed like aliens from another world.

In the afternoons, we spent time in the areas devastated by hurricane Harvey. The heat was unbearable, the stench of the mould on the walls, resulting from the floods, unpleasant. Many people had lost almost everything. Of course there must have been violence and looting. The people here are no more necessarily saintly than the wealthy downtown are wicked. But everyone with whom we talked was more concerned with other people who, they claimed, had suffered more. No one put themselves first. There was humour, laughter, and hope. I felt that my eyes had opened a tiny bit and I saw not destitute victims but people marked with the image of God. I left feeling that if I spent more time in such places, I would see more clearly.

Readings: Isaiah 45:1. 4-6  |  1 Thess 1:1-5  |  Matthew 22:15-21

fr Timothy Radcliffe was Master of the Order of Preachers from 1992 to 2001. A member of the community at Blackfriars, Oxford, he is the author of a number of very popular books and an internationally reputed speaker and retreat-giver.

Comments (1)

  • A Website Visitor

    Challenging and inspiring reflection. Thank you.

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