[Proverbs 8:1-11 / Philippians 3:17-21 / Matthew 22:15-22]
Wisdom speaks in our first reading. “Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver.” Wisdom promises an inheritance to those who love her, filling their treasuries. In other words, wisdom offers to make you rich if you embrace her, but the riches she offers are not the riches of THIS world. Not gold or silver. Something more, something enduring, something lasting.
In the second reading, the Apostle warns against those who “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.” As in the first reading, the warning is against setting your affections and loyalties on the things of this world: “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”
A mind that is set means a mindset: a way of thinking and believing that issues in practical outcomes. There is a variety of ways you can set your mind on earthly things. If you have a mindset that is essentially consumeristic – thinking happiness comes from possessing things – you’ll spend your time on earth collecting junk, and always adding to your collection. Big hint you’ve fallen into that is when your house can’t hold your junk and you’ve got to go rent or buy other places just to store it. If you have a mindset that is essentially hedonistic – thinking life is all about having fun – you’ll waste your time on earth searching for thrills and chasing passing pleasures with ever diminishing returns as you age, and you’ll end up shallow and dissatisfied, because there’s no way that pleasure for pleasure’s sake ever brought lasting joy to a single human soul. If you have a mindset that what really matters is family and you make an idol out of your kin, focusing on the family, you’ll discover that such a mindset doesn’t result in happiness. The family itself crumbles under the strain of making it an idol. St. Paul minces no words about what happens to those who set their minds on earthly things, even good earthly things: “their end is destruction.”
How could it be otherwise? You see, if you set your mind on possessing that which you are bound to lose in any case, you’re not walking the path of wisdom. Wisdom wants to give you something you will not lose – a treasure that can be yours even now, and that endures through all eternity. St. Paul spoke of that treasure when he wrote: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
In other words, to quote our Lord, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What you set your mind on, what you occupy your thoughts with constantly, that’s where your heart’s at, that’s your treasure. St. Paul urges the Christians of Philippi and us too not to occupy our minds, our hearts, our lives with earthly stuff of any variety, the stuff that passes away, but with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is in heaven and who will come again to raise the dead and change our lowly bodies, making them like His own – incorruptible! He’s our treasure – a treasure that lasts! And our citizenship, our loyalty is due to Him and to Him alone. In Him, we are free to love everyone and to use all the good things of this world without giving our hearts to them – money, pleasure, family, friendship. When our hearts are set on Jesus, all of these can be received from His hand as good gifts to enjoy, but never to grasp or to worship, never making them the center of our lives.
Our Lord drives home the same point when confronted by the plotting Pharisees and Herodians in today’s Gospel. They butter him up with compliments they don’t mean - but which are true - about how our Lord doesn’t mince words or kowtow to people of influence. He just speaks truth. So they try to trap him with the question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
He asks for a coin and they produce one. He inquires: “whose likeness and inscription is this?” Well, they all know that it is Caesar’s. “Therefore,” says our Lord, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s!” Now think about that. For just as the coin bears the likeness of the emperor and his inscription, so humanity was made to bear the image and likeness of God. If the coins go back to the man who made them and authorized them; then our lives need to go back to the One who stamped His likeness on them and wrote upon them that we belong to Him.
But alas, though He created us in His image and likeness, when we fell into sin that likeness was obscured and damaged. We ceased reflecting who God is – LOVE – in all our thoughts, our words, our deeds. So He gave His Son into our flesh to trace the image and likeness anew. He who is the very Icon of the Father, came into our flesh to suffer and die on Golgotha to free us from our idolatries to the things of this world, forgiving our sin, setting us free, drawing us to love the things above, and thus bringing humanity home to the God who made us.
“Give to God the things that are God’s.” What else was our Lord’s whole life about? He was returning God’s own to Him. From His birth in Bethlehem to His glorious ascension on high, His whole life was one movement of rendering to the Father what was His own: humanity itself. He did it like no human had ever done before. And He did it so that in Him, our lives would belong again to the One who made and redeemed us and so that His likeness and inscription would again be traced upon our lives.
To walk in wisdom, to walk the path the Apostle walked, is to renounce and turn from every idolatry, every attempt to squeeze life out of the things or pleasures or people of this world, and to find your real life hidden in Him who is the Likeness of God, Jesus Christ. It’s to know that in Jesus you have a treasure that is more precious than any of the stuff that passes away; a treasure that will be yours forever.
Here at this table, you encounter Him as He comes to you with His own Body and Blood, and here you taste and receive the treasure that you can have forever – His forgiveness, love, mercy, His very self. Caesar can have his coins, but Christ, who by His cross and resurrection rendered to God the things that were God’s that the Image of God might again be stamped on humanity, He and He alone gets our hearts. May He bring us all safely to Jerusalem the Golden where with saints and angels we will forever praise Him together with His Father and His life-giving Spirit, forever and ever! Amen.