You know the message, it was the Gospel reading just a while ago: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”. (Mk 12: 13-17) Even if you are not a bible toting, scripture reading person I bet that you have heard this saying somewhere along the way. Isn’t it amazing how the culture of Ancient Rome is still deeply embedded into the very fabric of our society including popular culture and even our legal system? This often repeated saying, though, is actually from an incident that happened with Jesus himself. His disciples were actually complaining about a tax that the Romans levied on the people, a census tax. If you were a “person” you paid the tax. Tax monies went directly to fuel Rome’s war efforts. The disciples thought that Jesus and his retinue should not pay the tax because the money would go directly to maiming and killing. In doing so, didn’t they send the message that they supported war and carnage? This would have been “illegal” in the Jewish culture. To the surprise of all, however, Jesus gives the crowd a message that they didn’t expect. He asks for coin which would have been used to pay the tax in question. Upon holding up the coin, he asks whose image is upon it. Caesar’s of course!
His next declaration is right to the point; “Repay to Caesar, what belongs to Caesar”. Duh….how obvious, the crowd was stunned. Roman money was created by the Romans and really belonged to the one who created it. Pay the tax, it belongs to Caesar anyway! This teaching of Jesus’, though, contains much more information. The message of the coin marked with the image of the emperor is that it ultimately belongs to the emperor. However, in the disciple’s minds they were focused on the wrong thing. They were distracted by the wrong message. They were pre-occupied by the injustice of the tax in the first place. If we look at the “big picture” we can see the implications of what Jesus so clearly illustrated. How about your ability to live and function in the world where does that come from? C’mon, you know the answer. The only reason we live and breathe or possess anything is that every morning when our eyes open, God has permitted us one more day on earth. That’s the essential message.
In today’s world, more than ever, we are assaulted by messages constantly. Some messages are stronger than others and all are designed to appeal to our ego or appetites. What’s your message I.Q.? How conscious are you of the validity of the messages which swirl around you? Do you have the spiritual skill to reject and/or filter out messages that are damaging or distracting to your spiritual progress and ultimate mission in life? Even the disciples were flummoxed by the messages around them. Maybe you have worked at that very thing and have achieved some discernment. It’s fairly easy to reject blatant pornography, suggestions of gluttony or pleasure, situations that openly affirm practices of greed and/or selfishness. But what about the “mixed message”, that cause or situation that has some good in it and maybe an element or two that is questionable? You know, the “muddy water”. This is really the issue of using a questionable means to achieve a noble end. This is a classic argument of logic and morality and has been taught and discussed in theology classes forever. But most of us are not and will never be theology students. So we have to be aware of this situation when it crops up in the “real world”. As we go through our daily routines it’s easy to get caught in this dilemma because all of the messages around us today are so slick and well crafted. Who doesn’t want to save the puppy with the pleading eyes while at the same time children in our nation are going to bed with nothing to eat? What conscience can resist empathy with the grieving mother of a bright young teen killed by distracted driving and then jump into our own car and immediately fire up the cell phone? Who can really find fault with two young people who are deeply in love and living together?
If we are truly God’s people, the answer to the dilemma of where to direct our attention is not so complicated. “We cannot allow ourselves to mix up the Good News of Salvation with the various recipes for happiness bandied about by the world. We cannot allow ourselves to give credit to the world for certain key notions that are in fact segments of the Gospel that have been taken out of their context and taken over by certain sectors of society. We cannot allow ourselves to let Christ’s message be welded to other messages, making it a moment in man’s salvation of man, putting the Gospel at the service of causes that are not purely and simply those of salvation.” (Servant of God Madeleine Delbrél †1964 French laywoman and mystic) Especially if those causes appeal strongly to our ego or to the cause of comforting a gnawing guilt that we just can’t put a finger on. Knowledge is really the best defense as a million messages vie for our attention in every which way day and night. Do you know the tenets of the faith, when was the last time you could recall, from memory, the Ten Commandments? Do you read the bible or other well founded Catholic writers? If a “message” has some glitches of untruth or contradiction in it do you focus on those or do you just ignore the doubtful parts because the rest is a “good thing”. Have you found your faith wavering or heading toward “luke warm” and don’t know why? What messages do you “take in” with no protest, mental or otherwise?
The bible tells us that what we take in with the eyes has a profound impact on our soul. This is also true of our other senses. That’s why hearing the Gospel is so powerful and why the word from the Old and New Testaments as well as a psalm are “proclaimed” at each Mass. If we have a true desire to be a person of faith we cannot allow just any message to take up residence in our sub-conscious. We need to turn off and tune out all messages that are anti-God and pro-gluttony or self satisfaction. We need to make a conscious and calculated effort to filter what comes into our person as well as what takes up residence there because we didn’t pay attention. If you have not been doing this and wonder why your faith experience has changed or become weak or has not grown the way you wish it would, stop taking the messages “for granted”. Look around you and re-examine the things you look at and listen to without any real discernment. The accumulation of messages that are not Christ centered can literally block our ability to grow spiritually. In this culture this undermining of the Salvation message can be gradual and oh so subtle. Give the things that you hear, see and experience some focused attention. You might find that you could clean house and have an improved spiritual experience that you never thought was possible. It’s the “little things” that do us in. Pay attention to the “messages” that you accept and those that you reject. “For its part, the world oscillates between two poles, in which ‘each one’ is sacrificed to an abstraction: on the one hand, in practice, self-centered capitalism for the sake of the well-being of the few, casts out all the others into a collective destitution; on the other hand, … for the sake of a collective well-being, casts out those who oppose it into another kind of destitution. In either case, then we risk losing from view all that the evangelization and salvation have to do with the individual. … The kingdom of God is not love of the world but love of people.” (Op. Cit, Delbrél)
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See more of Kathryn’s thinking at: www.atravelersview.org
Copyright © 2011, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved.
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