October 18, 2020; Matthew 22:15-21; 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I think I was two or three years old when I received my first coloring book. So many bright colors in the crayon box. So many puppies and flowers that I could color with abandon. But it was some time later when I grew older that my mother sat me down and said, “George, you are no longer a baby. I am going to show you how to color. You have to stay within the lines. You see this line here? The puppy is to this side not the other. See this circle? The sun is inside of it, not outside of it.” I listened to my mother and with time and patience I learned to color like a big boy. I learned to color within the lines.
Now adults do not use coloring books. But the rules of coloring have a way of following us into our lives. There is a strong compulsion for all of us to live within the lines. We draw bold lines around certain parts of our life and set them apart, convincing ourselves that by doing this we will somehow be better able to cope with the complexity and complications of living. We block apart pieces of our day on our calendar, whether it is electronic or paper, so that we can keep to the schedule. That’s living within the lines. We want our meat on our plate, our salad in a bowl, and we do not want our peas to mix with the mashed potatoes. That’s just the way things should be.
We even draw lines around the things we think and believe. This is business. This is politics. This is faith. Yes, that is a really noble idea, but this is business. The church should not be talking about that, because that is politics. This is truly the right thing for everyone, as long as you are not speaking about my child, my job, or my neighborhood. Of course I believe in God. I am a person of faith. That is why I come to church. This is God’s time. This is God’s place. It is best to keep God here. After all, that is staying within the lines.
Now it might seem that Jesus is drawing lines in today’s gospel. He says, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” But Jesus is doing the exact opposite. Some things belong to Caesar, but everything belongs to God. It is impossible to draw a line around God’s love. We are not able to separate God’s care and power from any part of creation. After all, God made the world without lines. Day flows into night and then back again. The seasons unfold one after another. God’s presence and beauty cannot be limited to this or that place, this or that group, this or that person.
The gospel calls us to accept the universal claim of God over all that is and the dignity of all God has made. Therefore, when we are tempted to build our world only out of our own ideas and opinions, God invites us to open our heart and mind wider and let bigger ideas get in. When we are tempted to limit our care and concern only to our neighborhood and our family, God asks us to step over that line and accept our connectedness to every person who lives on this planet. When we try to reduce God’s claim on us to that which is comfortable or to things that we can control, God asks us to accept the mystery of our call and allow God to change us into the new people we are called to be.
The world is not a coloring book. It is a cosmic act of love over which God rules supreme. So let us drop the crayons from our hands and enter God’s embrace.