(Matt. 22:15-22, Exodus 33:12-23, Isaiah 45:1-7, 1 Thess. 1:1-10)
This week brings us that famous (infamous?) incident from Matthew 22, wherein the Pharisees try to trap Jesus by asking if it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor.
They know, as does Jesus, as does the biblical scholar, that for Jesus to say no puts him in direct opposition to the government, and for him to say yes breaks the hearts of the poor who have no money to pay. He would also anger the Pharisees and the crowds. A conundrum indeed.
A few small gems sparkle in this controversially interpreted text. Did Jesus take the coin from his own pocket? No. He asked for a coin, possibly because he didn’t have one. The coin is stamped with the image of the emperor, which recalls to my mind the golden calf the Israelites had Aaron make in last week’s Exodus reading.
Is this passage about idolatry? I think so. I don’t think Jesus is making a political statement on taxation. Where can you go with this? What will your people hear in this time of deep political unrest, what gospel message can they bear? What (or Whose) image is stamped upon us?
Meanwhile Moses is still bargaining with God after his people have really stepped in it with the whole calf incident. Have you read Madeline L’Engle’s poem, where Madeline says, “Dear God, is it too much to ask you to bother to be? Just show your hindquarters, and let me hear you roar.”
To me it sounds like Moses is pleading with God to show the people (and Moses!) that God is real. How quickly they, and we, forget the mana rained down, the seas parted for us, the water gushing from the rock that was cleft. How quickly we need another manifestation of God to go on believing, how contrary to the definition of faith. Are we accidentally asking God to show Godself when we implore God to act? Are we no different than the wandering children of Israel, discontent, bowing down to the idols we’ve made (or asked our faith leaders, or politicians, to make for us)?
Paul picks up this theme in his letter to the church at Thessolonica (incidentally, it is thought to be the earliest letter in the NT), encouraging his readers to remember that their faith is grounded in belief, words and action. Paul says what poor Aaron didn’t say in the Exodus reading from last week, rather than encouraging his people to faithful living he gave in to their need to see their “god” in front of them.
Finally a “weal” – I stumbled and had to go back and read the Isaiah text again – “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I the Lord do all these things.” A weal is a raised mark, a bruise, and boy if we weren’t baiting and baiting God into the roar of this reading. God says in no uncertain terms who God is, and, strangely, Isaiah says God is speaking through God’s annointed, none other than a Persian ruler who conquered Babylon. I would move away from that just a bit though, preferring to focus instead on the “I” statements of God in this reading. What encouragement, or fear, do they bring up? What weals do we have that we think God inflicted upon us? Did God really do the damage, or did we?
Psalms 99 and 96 thunder the glory of God as well, and perhaps tie nicely in to a well-made homiletic bow.
I wish you well this week preachers, your people wait to hear the wisdom of God distilled through you. Thank you for your work.
Alicia Hager resides in West Michigan and is a Postulant to the Sacred Order of Priests in the Episcopal Church. Alicia enjoys spending time with her daughters and her husband, is bonkers about her cats, and blogs at astrawberrypointe.wordpress.com.
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