Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

What belongs to God?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Some years ago, Cardinal George received a very special gift for the archdiocese — a Roman coin dating back to the time of Jesus. It bears the inscription and head of Augustus Caesar and is the kind of coin mentioned in the Gospels we heard earlier this month. 

In that scene, the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with the question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes?” If Jesus said “yes,” then they could undermine his credibility with the people by portraying him as a Roman collaborator and sympathizer. If Jesus answered “no,” they could report him to the Romans as an insurgent. 

Cleverly, before answering Jesus asks to see one of these Roman coins. “Whose image and inscription is on the coin?” he asks. When told it is Caesar’s, he famously replies: “Then, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

All of that prompts the question: What belongs to God? What bears the image and likeness of God? Of course, each of us does. Each of us is a coin of the realm in God’s kingdom. Describing our lives this way, as a kind of currency to be spent, may strike us as a bit odd. But let’s consider for a moment how the metaphor of currency helps us better understand our lives as disciples of Jesus, especially as we take up the work of Renew My Church (see related story on page 24).

We spend our coins, use our currency to sustain what has been given to us, realizing that we are debtors for all that we have received from the past. Our payment of taxes and our philanthropy are often used to sustain what has been already provided and is being provided us through the contribution of others. Through Renew My Church, we are attempting to cultivate a greater sense of accountability, good stewardship and responsibility for all that has been handed on to us, our institutional structures, our traditions and patterns of living the faith. 

We need to avoid the tendency to squander this heritage by living off of it. But we also know that it would be foolhardy to think we can hold on to everything as it was in the past, even if circumstances such as shifting demographics and other factors, such as social developments, require us to change. In other words, Renew My Church will personally cost us something, for we will be challenged to let go of familiar patterns of behavior. It will also require us to be prudent stewards who make balanced decisions. As I think about this, I am reminded of the Gospel image of “the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”  

Currency is also used to pay forward by investing in the future. Here we have to ask the question, what are we adding to what has been handed on to us? Renew My Church calls us to recognize that God is doing something new in our time and through us so that the next generation will be able to experience the transforming power of the Gospel that has made a difference in our lives. 

The image of currency reminds us that what we are passing on to future generations is not just the past or a set of teachings. We are passing on ourselves, spending ourselves like currency, for the best and most credible proclamation of the Gospel is witness, personal testimony. Renew My Church will require a personal investment of ourselves, a willingness to share our faith with one another throughout this process.

All of this reminds us that Renew My Church cannot be reduced to a structural reorganization concerned with finances and resources. The world’s money is not the currency, the coin in the realm of God’s kingdom; we are. 

Thinking that the renewal we are challenged to take up is only about such mundane and material matters is a distraction and an escape from the real kind of renewal we need in the life of the church. The renewal has to begin with a recognition that we are being called to be spent; we are called to invest ourselves for the future. Anything less would “shortchange” Renew My Church.

The Roman coin given to Cardinal George is encased in a glass box, to be viewed as a museum piece, a relic of the past. Renew My Church is a call to make sure that the church and our faith never meet the same fate. 


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