Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sometimes when we are engaged in serious conversation its often the throwaway sentence that carries more meaning than what has gone before, so to my mind this phrase from I Thessalonians hints at an enormous amount of effort in ministry on the part of Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, there is also a well attested hostility from certain quarters, so see how you understand this: "For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the holy Spirit and [with] much conviction" (I Thess I:5a ) Of course in verse six we have a clear indication of a big struggle which hints at turmoil and trouble : "And you became imitators* of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the holy Spirit" (I Thess 1:6).
If I leave a strictly historical exegesis of this passage out of our thoughts for the moment, what we begin to discern is something important for our own understanding of faith, of its reception and our transmission of it., for here I sense that though I may hear, read, preach and study the Scriptures, this alone will not necessarily deepen my own commitment to faith, I like you, need to hear the truth, that is the inner conviction of the rightness of what comes to us. But it has to have its own dynamism, a different power that captures our minds, hearts and souls, given by the Holy Spirit. Now this is something that has preoccupied me a lot recently! Since I have come into more contact with Pentecostal Christians, I kept thinking of the early years of our Catholic Charismatic movement, an outpouring of the Spirit upon our rather staid and conservative church communities.
It was heady stuff, I never managed to speak or sing in tongues, but I experienced those who did, and it was a lesson in unblocking the depths of people, removing the barriers we have put in place between ourselves and the praise of God , a freeing up of that stiff, self-conscious relationship we so often have with the Holy One, so that prompted by the Spirit, opened in a way we become unfettered from our inner blockages, instead becoming truth tellers, singers of joy. This led me into a more open faith in the Spirit, where I began to see the importance of the charismata we are given and of the need to be far more open to that self-same gift giver, who can transform us. But too often we shy back, we implore the Spirit's aid: 'Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of your faithful' is a well known prayer, but we seem fearful of what might come and too often shy away from the 'afflictions' that come with the gifts, for as we know truth, true freedom in the Gift-Giver is not welcomed by all, and yet, if only we believed more, we would find a deeper joy!
Can Jesus help us find a way to becoming more open to this dynamic person of the Triune God? Frequently he is cited as making the Spirit a first gift and step to knowing himself more, and of finding a way to becoming part of the life -giving Trinity. Maybe this Gospel of Caesar's coin and the question of the tricky Pharisees can shed light on a practical way of doing just that.
We have before us a statement that Jesus is a truth teller and more, one of those people who see beyond our carefully structured facade to the reality beneath:
"a truthful man
and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion,
for you do not regard a person's status"( Mt 22:16)
This is the give away sentence here, for it shows us Jesus was obedient not to the demands of human beings, but to truth, and his was true obedience, the sort we need to inculcate, a really deep listening to the signs, an engagement to search out in each encounter the real direction necessary for good. We live in a finite world and it is here, not in any 'bubble' of comfort, or flight from reality, where we discover God amongst us. Caesar's coin comes to us in numerous ways, the institutions we work for, the structure of our civil society, its procedures and rules, the laws we are asked to follow, yes, we too have to pay our taxes, earn our daily bread, get along with each other, but we are also asked as Christian to take on something more, the 'affliction' of being 'people of the truth', for you see, we are asked to pay Caesars tax, that is our civic duty for the good ordering of society, but also to be God's good servants first , to live the way of God in truth!