Prayer before reading:
Lord Jesus Christ,
You call us to come
To be with you.
By your Spirit help me
To see you,
To hear you,
To receive your Spirit,
To be led by your Spirit.
Read slowly. Listen deeply. Indwell the scripture.
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
The lectionary readings this week call us to pay attention to how evil infiltrates who we are and what we do. We think we are following God, but over time forget and cease to pay attention to God. Other things, other influences, pull our attention into their lure. The Exodus narrative, echoed in the psalms, paints a picture of this kind of forgetting. The people of Israel get tired of waiting for Moses who is on the mountain in conversation with Jahweh. They want to get moving, to be on their way to the land of promise. And since Moses is not present to lead in the presence of God, they decide that they can make other gods who will go before them.
Waiting is not in our comfort zone – especially when we are waiting on God. Action is what we want: reaching the goal, even if that goal has been given us by God. Now the goal is to be seized, and all that we want in order to reach that outcome becomes our god. So it was with the children of Israel.
In the gospel narrative we are led back into the temple as Jesus is being questioned by the Pharisees – along with members of the house of King Herod. Their intent is to trap him, even though they assure Jesus of his integrity as a teacher of the way of God. But Jesus is aware of their malice – of the evil which has infiltrated their thinking, and what they do. Instead of living in harmony with the Hebrew scriptures and the laws of Moses, they forget the intent of the law, and are blind to how deadly their desires and plans are.
Jesus responds to their question about whether it is lawful for the Jews to pay taxes to the Roman emperor by holding up a coin used for the tax, and asking, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” For the Jews – and especially for the religious leaders, it would be wrong to honor the Roman Empire in this way. At the same time, they know that the people of Israel live in Roman occupied territory – and thus are required to pay the tax,
or to suffer the consequences. Thus the money used to offer in the temple was of a different coinage than that used for paying the Roman tax. It is a coin used for paying the Roman tax which Jesus holds up for them all to see.
In response to his question they have to reply, “The emperor’s”. Thus Jesus replies, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Some things clearly belong in this world and its systems. The question becomes, to whom do we belong?
As we live in the web of the world’s system, we pay homage in numerous ways to “the emperor” – its ways, its demands. And we tend to forget God. Somehow we forget that all finally belongs to God. All is a gift to be received and held loosely for the good of all.
The invitation Jesus makes is for us to remember, to open our attention to who we are, created in the image of God, and brought back into harmony with God through Jesus’ self-giving. He gave all for us.
As we open ourselves for the Holy Spirit to tend our soul, to help us remember, and as we companion each other in this world, we are invited to practice the spiritual discipline of remembering. Jesus says to us, “. . . remember me, and my death, until I come.”
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
- 10/3 Monday: Matthew 22:15-22
- 10/4 Tuesday: Matthew 22:15-22
- 10/5 Wednesday: Psalm 106:1-9,19-23
- 10/6 Thursday: Philippians 4:1-9
- 10/7 Friday: Exodus 32:1-14
- 10/8 Saturday: Matthew 22:15-22
- 10/9 Sunday: Matthew 22:15-22