14 October 2011

' . . . to Caesar what belongs to Caesar . . .' Sunday Reflections. 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Sto Niño Church, Lianga, Surigao del Sur, Philippines

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines and USA)
Gospel Matthew 22:15-21 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)
The Pharisees went away to work out between them how to trap Jesus in what he said. And they sent their disciples to him, together with the Herodians, to say, 'Master, we know that you are an honest man and teach the way of God in an honest way, and that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you. Tell us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not? But Jesus was aware of their malice and replied, ‘You hypocrites! Why do you set this trap for me? Let me see the money you pay the tax with.’ They handed him a denarius and he said, ‘Whose head is this? Whose name?’ ‘Caesar’s’ they replied. He then said to them, ‘Very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.
Soiscéal Matha 22:15-21 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin d’imigh na Fairisínigh ag déanamh comhairle le chéile chun go mbéarfaidís I ngaiste Íosa sa chaint, agus chuir siad a ndeisceabail féin chuige mar aon leis na Héaródaigh chun a rá leis: “A Mháistir, tá a fhios againn gur fear fírinneach thú agus go múineann tú slí Dé san fhírinne gan beann agat ar dhuine ar bith, agus gan féachain do phearsa seachas a chéile. Abair linn do bharúil, mar sin: An dleathach cáin a íoc le Céasar nó an mídhleathach?” Ach bhí a fhios ag Íosa an mhallaitheacht a bhí iontu agus dúirt: “Cad ab áil libh ag baint trialach asam, a bhréagchráifeacha? Taispeánaigí bonn na cánach dom,” agus shín siad déanar chuige. Dúirt sé leo: “Cé hé arb í seo a íomhá agus a inscríbhinn?” “Céasar,” ar siad leis. “Maith go leor,” ar seisean leo, “íocaigí le Céasar na nithe is le Céasar agus le Dia na nithe is le Dia.”

I was parish priest of Lianga from June 1993 till May 1994, my two-year assignment cut short so that I could become Columban vocation director for the Philippines, an assignment I had till 2000. The parish patron is the Sto Niño, the Holy Child. The town is located on Lianga Bay on the east coast of Mindanao, looking straight across the Pacific Ocean at Colombia in South America. It has some fine beaches and provides a livelihood for many fishermen.
However, when I was there Lianga was a relatively remote, sleepy town on a provincial highway that stretched the meaning of the word 'road' to its limits. The big promise of the mayor at the time was 'Next year we will have a telephone'. The lone telephone was to be in the town hall. Now everyone has a mobile phone and I couldn't believe the difference a new highway made to the whole province when I visited in May 2010 to do a wedding, my first visit in ten years. It had transformed the lives of the people.

During my time in Lianga the mail came in and went out three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The postmistress was Mrs Rose Sanchez, an official who took great pride in her work and who was trying to persuade the powers that be to have the mail delivered and collected five days a week. I don't know if she ever succeeded. But everything was done efficiently and with courtesy. Rose had a sense of being a public servant, making sure that the service, limited though it was compared to bigger centres, helped improve the lives of the people in the town itself and in the hinterlands.

At the time I used to write a weekly column for The Freeman, a daily published in Cebu City and wrote about Rose one week. I gave her a copy of the article, a copy of which she sent to her superior who congratulated her. She was delighted to have her sense of service recognised.

The partly enigmatic answer that Jesus gave to the Pharisees and Herodians in today's gospel is often referred to in situations of conlfict or apparent conflict between Church and State. But it isn't always a matter of conflict.

Rose, who is retired now, was a servant of the State. She is also a member of the Church. I'm certain that her sense of service came largely from her Catholic faith. She served all the people, Catholic and others, with care. In 'giving back to Caesar' as a servant of the State working for its citizens, she was also 'giving back to God' by serving his people.

Rose was widowed last August. Perhaps you can remember her and her late husband 'Nonoy' in your prayers.

Photos courtesy of Benjie Otagan, A Lianga Diary

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