29th Sunday in ordinary time: First, good citizenship

29th Sunday in ordinary time: First, good citizenship

Today’s readings: Isaiah 45, 1.4-6; Thessalonians 1, 1-5; Matthew 22, 15-21.

The divide between religion and politics, Church and society, has been commonplace since the inception of Christianity as a movement impacting on society and on the individual conscience. For long we were used to live in a culture where the values of Christianity were the values inspiring our social cohesion and the laws of the country. But now that is no longer the case. We do not live in a theocracy, and our frame of mind is shaped by democratic values, even if that implies a certain pluralism of values and beliefs.

Yet at times we still behave as if we are descendants of the Pharisees at the time of Jesus, maliciously raising questions regarding where politics ends and faith begins.

We are uneasy with a culture and a society that have long been going their way in the wake of the so-called secularisation process. When we look around, we can easily be overwhelmed by a sense of failure on the part of Christianity, given that seemingly what our churches struggled to keep at bay is now legitimised socially and culturally.

Since the birth of Modernity, humanity has experienced political, cultural and social revolutions that have changed radically the course of history and the way people live and relate to each other. Very often the Church resisted all this and even pretended to remain untouched by all that was changing people’s lives and beliefs.

There were even attempts in the 20th century at the restoration of a medieval society as the remedy for the crisis of politics.

Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain in mid-20th century promoted the concept of ‘integral humanism’ as remedy for the ills of society and Church alike. Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray struggled in favour of the principle of ‘religious freedom’ based on the dignity of each and every human person.

These calls went unheard until they finally became sanctioned in the vision of Vatican Council II, and particularly in the gem Declaration on Religious Freedom.

The Church had simply to go beyond its self-image as a society and institution competing with society at large. It was high time that we stopped exchanging God’s kingdom on earth for the Church or vice versa. The Church in our times needed simply to re-read the times in the light of the Scriptures and to go beyond its own images of convenience fabricated to suit its own needs from time to time.

This is what today’s Scriptures provide us with. Instead of seeing things from within and from our restricted standpoint, risking a very narrow perspective of society, we need to place ourselves outside the confines of our thinking and broaden our perspective on the world and on politics.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks of the anointing of a pagan king, Cyrus of Persia, who, in spite of his being an outsider, was instrumental to liberate God’s people from their Babylonian captivity and lead them back to where they belonged.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus goes beyond the trappings of the Pharisees and reminds them and us that before we are believers in God, we are citizens of the world.

This is our major challenge in this juncture of history we are in. We separate what good citizenship is from what a good Christian might be. We still easily thrive in what apparently is a strong religiosity, while ignoring the demands of good citizenship where our commitment in and towards the common good of society is concerned.

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