Sunday, October 24, 2010

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

Philippians 1: 6-11 / Matthew 22: 15-21

I feel sorry for foreigners trying to make sense of American coins. For those who have travelled about the the world, while knowing the just price of anything may be a bit of a challenge, negotiating the money itself is generally a much simpler affair. Coins generally follow a simple rule, with copper-colored ones of the least value, silver-colored ones more, and bimetallic even more. Moreover, whatever the language, whether Italian, Arabic, or Cantonese, there is almost always, visible for any to read, the value of the coin represented in Arabic numerals.

Not so, the coins of the United States of America. While retaining difference between copper and silver coins, we have resolutely refused to put a numeral anywhere on our coins, save to note the year the coin was minted. What's more, the words we use to indicate the value of the coins are generally less than helpful. What we call a penny reads one cent, what we call a nickel reads five cents. What we call a dime does indeed read one dime, but unless the visitor knows that dîme is French for tithe, that is, one tenth of a dollar, he might well be excused for imagining that this small silver coin is worth less than the larger nickel!

So, what does our foreign traveller do? Generally, he is reduced to holding out his palm full of coins to the proprietor of a store, hoping that he will be an honest man. He renders to him all the change he has, trusting that a shopkeeper who is good and honest, who does not will to take advantage of him, will only take back what is his due.

We, of course, have been minted by God Almighty, stamped more thoroughly than any coin, in the very constitution of our nature, after the image and likeness not of a king or president, but of God himself. Like the foreign visitor, we might be ignorant of the value of those stamped with the Lord's image, and we, the faithful redeemed by the blood of Christ, might forget to attend to the superscription written atop our heads by the sealing and confirming power of the Holy Spirit. We certainly do so when we use our own selves, our bodies and our minds, in ways unfit for those who bear God's image, and when we exchange our fellow men and women, our fellow Christians, for goods or pleasures, things possibly valuable in themselves, but far too cheap an exchange for those bought for a price on the Cross. Our gossip and cheapening of our own and our neighbor's name, our passing by the weak and poor in silence or disdain or fear, our suppression of persons for sensual delights in the flesh or through the transmission of countless pixels across the Internet — in these and countless other ways we mock the holy economy of God and flood the world with counterfeits minted in the outer darkness of Hell and the inner darkness of our hearts.

We can, however, choose to be free from this clandestine economy. We can reach deep into our pocket and render everything we find there to our Lord and God. We can trust, with absolute assurance, that he will remove from our hand and cast aside anything false, whatever does not bear his image, and take only what is his due — which is of course all. However dented, however tarnished, we need not fear that, in the end, we will be left with buttons and wooden nickels in place of the shining currency of heaven, the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is why St Paul can say we are confident that God will perfect ... unto the day of Christ Jesus the good work he has begun in us. God does not deal in counterfeits, nor does he leave his redeemed empty-handed. Rather, when we render to God what is God's, when we hand over to him all our love, and submit ourselves in love and justice to those whom he has put into our lives, then he will make us a good return. Then our charity may more and more abound in knowledge and in all understanding; that we may approve the better things; that we may be sincere and without offense unto the day of Christ: filled with the fruit of justice, through Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God.

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