Psalm 96, an enthronement psalm, serves as the responsorial psalm for today’s liturgy. Enthronement psalms were used in the Temple liturgy to accentuate the power and glory of God. It is particularly appropriate for this Sunday as all of the readings speak of God’s power and ask us to put that power in the proper perspective. Who has real power? What is its source?
The sixth century prophet Isaiah introduces the Persian king Cyrus. Although he is a pagan king, he is saluted by the prophet as an anointed messiah of God, his servant raised up to conquer Babylon and to restore God’s people to their homeland. While the prophet declares that Cyrus is an agent of God’s plan, he takes great pains to make it clear that the power behind Cyrus’ throne is God. Isaiah proclaims God’s words: “I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me.”
The Gospel today presents us with yet another plot to trap Jesus in his words. The Pharisees attempt to trap Jesus by setting up an opposition between political power and God’s power. Jesus avoids their categories and recognizes the legitimate function of human power in its proper relation to God’s power. Real wisdom is found in knowing what it is that belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. Secular authority has its place in human existence, but only when it recognizes God’s power as the priority.
St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians begins with the traditional greeting – both the divine blessing of grace and the secular blessing of peace. He immediately breaks into a song of thanksgiving for the fact that the Thessalonians, a Gentile community in a pagan world, has recognized the power of the Gospel. They have responded to that Gospel through their work of faith and their labor of love and by enduring in hope which they have received through St. Paul’s preaching of the Gospel of Jesus. Through the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit, the Thessalonians have changed their lives and have become God’s chosen people.
Throughout human history, God has often used men and women as agents of divine power. God’s power worked through a pagan king in restoring the people of Israel to their homeland. God’s power witnessed the non-violent overthrow of a mighty nation through the agency of Mahatma Ghandi, a diminutive Hindu of Indian origin. In our own country we have been witnesses of the extraordinary peaceful resistance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister. Susan B. Anthony struggled against political power to enfranchise the women of the United States. Nelson Mandela did the same for the black Africans of South Africa. In our own time we have seen a teenage girl, Greta Thunberg, address the leaders of the world about climate change in the halls of the United Nations. Just last Sunday, an Italian teenage boy was beatified and lifted up as a model of someone who has used the internet to bring the miracles of the Eucharist to the attention of the world. God uses men and women, young and old, politicians and protestors to remind the world that God’s power is greater than any other.
Today is World Mission Sunday in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis set the words, “Here I Am, Send Me” as the theme for this year. As we consider the ways God’s power has been revealed in humans, we also remember that we are all called to bring the power of the Gospel to our world.
Daily we meet the demands of human power – political, economic, and religious. Which demands are legitimate? When is obedience to human power also submission to God’s power? When is resistance to human power obedience to God? It requires wisdom and courage to sing today’s new song. The gods of the nations are nothing. Human power exists only as a share in the power of God who made heaven and earth. To God belong glory and power.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator