In today’s Gospel when Jesus said, “Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God”. We are each challenged to reaffirm the basic truth of our lives: that we each belong to God; He has created us in His image and likeness. All the material wealth put together with all the material images in this world can only describe what we own, but not who we are.
Our true identity can only be defined if we relate our being to God who created us, all human beings, the world and the universe out of nothing. God our Father, the Creator alone can give us this identity; we are each a child of God; a son or daughter of God our Father. However, we can so easily misunderstand God and forget the truth of who we are and who God is to us. I would like to illustrate this truth with two stories.
When Jake’s ship sunk, he miraculously survived and was washed on the shore of an uninhabited island. Every day, he stormed heaven to send someone to rescue him as there was nothing much on the small island for him to survive on. However, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect himself from the harsh weather conditions and to store whatever little possessions he had gathered.
But then one day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames. The worst had happened; he had lost everything. He was stunned with grief and anger. "God, how could you do this to me!" he cried. Early the next day, however, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him. He was overjoyed . . . when he got on to the ship, he asked the rescuers, "How did you know I was here?" They replied, "We saw your smoke signal."
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when we reflect on our lives, we will realise that when things don’t go our way, or when we face certain crises in life, we tend to get anxious and impatient. If we are not careful and if these crises continue, we can become negative about ourselves, others and even with God. These pains will gradually drag us into the darkness of our depression and the pit of our sorrows; being consumed by our anger we can easily become blind to the reality that God is still present to us and caring for us. We will then unlikely see that within the very smoke of our crises and as in the smoke of Jake’s burning hut, God is actually rescuing us and answering our prayers.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is reminding us that we each belong to Him; we are each a child of God; His image of Love is imprinted in our hearts and soul, and He loves us totally, infinitely and unconditionally.
However, the images of the money and the riches we possess are the images of the powers and authorities of kings or governors of our nation. Such images, while needed for a nation, does not define our identity; they cannot guarantee us our happiness and fulfilment in life. In fact, they will never be able to come to our rescue in the crises of our lives . . . only God Himself, who is imprinted in our hearts and soul can give us the deepest fulfilment in our lives.
There is another story of Danny who one day was swimming to shore, when his mother suddenly noticed that an alligator was also swimming toward him. Danny’s mother shouted frantically at the top of her voice to warn her son from the approaching alligator.
Just as Danny reached the dock, his mother grabbed his arm and tried to pull him out of the water. However, just at that moment the alligator too grabbed hold of Danny’s legs with its jaws. Danny’s mother fought hard with the alligator with great courage. This incredible tug-of-war went on for some minutes until a passerby heard the commotion and came to Danny’s rescue. Danny was then rushed to the nearest hospital for treatment. Having suffered serious injuries, Danny was hospitalised for several days for treatment. When Danny recovered, he would happily show his scars to his family and friends.
Danny would say proudly, “I have these scars because mommy loves me so much that she would not allow the alligator to eat me up; it is truly amazing how mommy could fight the alligator with such courage and strength for my life. If not for her love for me, I would not be here today.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, if God had answered all my prayers in the way I wanted my life to be, especially all the stupid and immature prayers of my childhood and teenage years, and sometimes even in the blindness of my adult life, I would not be standing here as a Jesuit priest today. If God had allowed me to go the way I wanted in life, I also have no doubts I would not be as happy and fulfilled as I am today. Even, in my daily living, I do not expect that God will answer my prayers in the way that I want things to be.
When God had a tug-of-war with us . . . and when we see the scars of our resistance of God’s Will in our lives, let us be sure that these scars, which in spiritual language are called “crosses” in our lives, are in fact God tugging and keeping us from going the wrong way in our lives . . . these scars and crosses in our lives are there because God loves us so totally and unconditionally that He will never allow any harm to come upon us that will destroy us and our family and our faith in Him.
And even when our seeming most precious possessions like our marriage, vocation, profession, health, wealth, family, friends and the like, is on the verge of “going up in smoke” then, let remember Jake’s story of how he seemed to have lost his most precious possession of his hut, but was indeed, God’s way of rescuing him.
Let me conclude by saying that we can sometimes so easily misunderstand God through the wrong perceptions of our lives. We also have the tendency to forget that we belong to God; Jesus loves us personally, infinitely and unconditionally. He will always be there for us; let us put our trusts in Him and not in the material wealth and images of this secular world that do not lasts. Only God is eternal; only God can give us the deepest fulfilment in our lives, beginning in this world and lasting for all eternity.(Adapted from: Web Sites Plus; “Is your hut burning, Scars)
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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