By Brother Brian Boyle, C.PP.S.
I use to work for this hospital for 10 years. I had a supervisor who frequently crossed boundaries of different varieties with me. There were frequent times that he asked me questions about the C.PP.S. which was too sensitive for me to disclose to someone who is not in the Community. I don’t think he really cared about the answer. In the ten years that I worked for this hospital, I slowly got to know him as a narcissist. He asked these questions to set moral traps for me. If I disclose information about my Community, I am selling out the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. If I rebuff him, I am in his dog house. If I go in either direction, I pay some kind of price.
There is a similar moral trap being set for Jesus by the Pharisees and the Herodians in this Sunday’s Gospel. If Jesus supports paying a census tax, he is selling out Israel. If he declined to support paying a census tax, he is defying the Roman occupation of Israel. Jesus’ response is really smooth. I have to admit that I do not possess this skill. My better ideas usually come after some discernment. Traps are set before us with no good answers. Jesus quickly saw through this. On the one hand, he was not going to cast his heart and soul towards an occupation government that exploited his fellow Israelites and employed capital punishment when they resisted. On the other hand, if Israel was free of Roman occupation, do you really think that Jesus was going to get excited about supporting Herod and the fractious Israelite groups of his day?
Jesus speaks the truth but does not sell out either side. He knows that God can work through the good and bad of either side of the coin. He knows that neither the Romans nor the Israelites hold a monopoly on truth, goodness and justice. God can work through any side. The first two readings support this. King Cyrus the Great of Persia freed Israelites from Babylonian captivity. He was not Jewish, and was not even aware of God’s work in him. God worked outside of the Israelite “brand” to accomplish a just end. In the Thessalonians reading, Paul states that, “For our Gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit.” What this is conveying to me is that if I were to rely on the Gospel through “word,” then I am allowing the other interpreters, redactors, editors etc. to come between myself and God’s message. I have to experience God’s message and movement in myself first before these third parties intervene with their own slight agendas.
If you are reading this, and you believe that you have been set up in a moral trap at least one time, just know that it probably was not a coincidence. Moral traps are set before us. People attempt to come between us and God and try to define our loyalties. Resist the temptation to answer quickly. Let God work through you. As we celebrate Eucharist this Sunday, let us take comfort and inspiration that Jesus has our backs. He will set a path for us to avoid these traps. Jesus shows us the way to avoid these pitfalls.
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Brother Brian Boyle, C.PP.S., is a hospital chaplain in Northwest Indiana. He is also the associate director of Companions (lay associates) of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood.