29th Sunday in Ordinary Time


By John Dalla Costa

Many of us live fissured lives. Even while aching for faith’s consolations, we often undertake everyday studies or work as if what we do is separate from whom we are. Laura Nash and Scotty McLennan examined this split in their book, “Church on Sunday, Work on Monday.” As the title suggests, the authors found “feelings of radical disconnection between Sunday services and Monday morning activities,” with people “describing a sense of living in two worlds that never touch each other.”

Our readings today invite us to confront and heal this “radical disconnection.” Isaiah and Paul remind us that we are “chosen,” recipients and bearers of God’s love. Both also explain that the fruition and responsibilities of that love require “constancy” in our attentiveness towards God. As the responsorial psalm poetically implies, everything we say or do is latent with possibilities of praise.

Yet breaching this divide is invariably dangerous. The trap set by the Pharisees in today’s gospel posed life and death stakes for Jesus. Seeking to delegitimize his authority as a prophet and teacher, they carefully entangled Jesus in the opposing ideologies between Temple and Empire. Yet, in rabbinic fashion, he approached the conflict about taxes with a question, and then turned what others saw as a binary choice between unacceptable options into a definition of our vocation.

“Giving to God what is God’s” – for the Jews at that time, as for us today – is to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul. Nothing is left over, which paradoxically means that everything is possible, even as we engage the messy, often harsh demands of our temporal reality. The vocation we share with Christ is not to escape the world but to incarnate in our time, by our efforts, with our gifts and ingenuities, God’s love.

Nash and McLennan prescribe three “conditions for reconnecting” Sundays with Mondays.

  1. To proceed with a sense of “personal calling,” deriving purpose, and practicing prayerfulness, even in situations that seem intractable.
  2. To recognize that by our actions and choices we are “engines of justice” – never neutral bystanders but by baptism instruments of transformation.
  3. And to have “sacred awareness,” searching with a mystic’s eyes for God’s presence even in the agonies, pettiness, or brokenness where Caesars dominate and God seems most absent.