Gospel Reflections

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Matthew 22:15-21

Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Nancy Citro

Published: October 22, 2017

Read Matthew 22:15-21

The Pharisees went offand plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying,"Teacher, we know that you... Read More…

In praying with this weekend’s Gospel, I was drawn to the whole notion of “God’s call” and also the ancient idea of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, a military strategy that originated in India in 4th century BCE and has been used throughout the centuries, sometimes for good, sometimes for self-interest and sometimes for both. In the Gospel we find the Pharisees, a religious party who were promoters of God’s word and of the traditions that dated back to Moses, and Jesus, who identified his mission when he opened the scroll and read from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah,

     “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

The conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees and Jesus and other religious groups in power at the time are well documented, and, as we know, ultimately led to his horrific death. Gratefully, the story didn’t end there.

Responding to God’s call can, at times, be difficult.  Sustaining the virtues of that call can be an incredible challenge given our human nature and desires, and the consequences of being faithful to God’s call can sometimes cause great suffering even to the point of death for some, not only in the case of Jesus and many of his followers of his time, but also, as we know, throughout history. And through God’s grace, the story didn’t end there for them either.  But being faithful to God’s call is also most assuredly healing and liberating and fulfilling. What does it mean to be faithful to God’s call? Some would say it means to be pure of heart, not allowing ourselves to be motivated by our own needs for power, control, security… but to have a heart open to God, that wants whatever God wants, surrendering our will to God’s will.

In reflecting on the behavior of the Pharisees in this Gospel passage, I tried to imagine what was going on in their minds and hearts when they conspired with the Herodians, their known enemies at the time, in order to defeat one whom they perceived to be a greater threat to them both – Jesus.  How, in their minds, did Jesus pose a threat to them? Were they being pure of heart when they pretended to admire Jesus when all the while they were really trying to trap him?  Or were they misguided by their own personal motivations and entrapments?

Jesus’ response to their scheme, I believe, was consistent to his proclaimed mission.  By unmasking their falsehood, Jesus was calling them to live an authentic life.  Perhaps it was also an invitation to have an honest conversation that might have led to collaboration in accomplishing the will of God in their lives which was to be of service to their people who were suffering, not only at the hands of the oppressive Roman empire, but also by the extraordinary expectations of and marginalization by their own religious leaders.  But this was not to be.

As I seek to live out God’s purpose in my own life, praying with this Gospel passage reinforced for me the importance of examining my own entrapments and my motivations in how I lead and in how I collaborate, and in how I respond to God’s call.  It underscored for me the need to cultivate a pure heart, and to confront those who do harm for the sake of liberating them rather than defeating them as I believe Jesus did with the Pharisees and the Herodians.

How can I cultivate a pure heart?  For certain, I cannot do it on my own.  A start would be for me to not only profess belief in Jesus but also strive to imitate him and other wisdom figures who endeavored/endeavor to be His faithful followers.  When I reflect on their lives, some commonalities include:  praying with scripture; consistency in prayer; seeking guidance from the Spirit, mentors, and community; and honest, self-examination.

When engaging with those they encountered, they took their physical, psychological and spiritual needs to heart and in prayer and allowed themselves to be God’s instruments in whatever way possible not only to those who were most vulnerable and those who were favorable to them, but also to those who were in opposition to them – seeing Christ in all of them.  They didn’t think about their engagements in terms of successes and failures.  They worked on being faithful, and this process of honest engagement fostered within them a purity of heart.



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