Fractured and faithless
We live in a really fractured world right now. So much arguing and fighting, so much hatred toward each other and toward God. I believe our readings this week really speak to the times in which we live and to our own hearts.
So let’s consider our readings for this week. I’m going to be focusing most of my comments on the Old Testament text and the Gospel text but we will bring in the Epistle text as well. Our texts for today are:
Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
When I first read through these texts, the concern for others immediately jumped off the page from the OT text. Let’s take a look at it. It’s interesting to me that the Exodus text starts out with a warning about sacrificing to other gods, then goes right into an admonition on how to treat the “stranger” among the people of Israel. What was God trying to say to them? It seems clear that He was tying proper worship and faith in Himself directly to how the Israelites treated others. In fact, He says to them in latter half of verse 22, “for yourselves also were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Douay-Rheims). God reminds them that they were once strangers, therefore they should treat the strangers among them well.
What does it mean when God says they were strangers? Well, from a literal view, they were not native Egyptians. In fact, they were slaves. I’d say that qualifies them as strangers. But let’s look deeper. If we are to read the Old Testament within the context of the Church, we see that the Church has seen in the Old Testament what is called types. In other words, the things we see in the OT (which are true and actually happened) foreshadow other things to come and point to those things. How, you’re thinking, does that apply here?
Well, remember how God starts off this admonition. He starts off by reminding the people not to worship other gods. And why? Because they were strangers. In fact, they were, once upon a time, strangers to the very person of God. It was only God’s choice of Abram (their forefather) that made them no longer strangers. Had not God shown grace and mercy to Abram by choosing him, there would have been no people of Israel. They would have been strangers. But now, through God’s undeserved mercy and grace, they are no longer strangers. Rather, they are the chosen people.
We’re kind of like this, aren’t we?
Actually, we’re not kind of like this, we are exactly like this. We were once alienated from God. The Israelites were held captive in a land that was not their own, under the tyranny and oppression of evil pharaohs who used them spitefully. And so were we once held captive in the wasteland of sin, held captive by the tyranny of our own sinful flesh and the under the thumb of Satan who had used us spitefully.
So just as God reminds the Israelites that they were once strangers and held captive, so are we to remember that we were once strangers and held captive…which leads us to our Gospel reading.
Jesus is approached by the Pharisees and asked a question. Being sticklers for the law, they ask Jesus which is the greatest commandment. It’s ironic that they ask Him this since they are the ones who literally added hundreds of rules to go along with the law. Anyways, they ask the question and notice Jesus’ response.
He says the greatest commandment (quoting Deut. 6:5) is “to love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.” (Douay-Rheims) Then He quotes Leviticus 19:18 saying, “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.”
Jesus just did the same thing God the Father did in the Exodus text. He roots and grounds love of neighbor in love of God. In fact, He says, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” In other words, our very salvation depends upon our ability to obey these two. By one, we are saved. By the other, we show forth our salvation.
But we need to understand what love is. Love does not mean remaining silent while our neighbor walks a path to Hell. In fact, our epistle reading today reminds us of something that we moderns don’t like talking about much. Look at our epistle reading quickly. St. Paul reminds us that there is a part of salvation that we don’t like considering: wrath. This is part of salvation that has, frankly, been left out of modern Christianity. God’s wrath is coming against those who reject Him and His Christ. Love demands that we call out to those who are in the path of God’s wrath to repent. If we don’t, we don’t get to say we really love them. Love wants our neighbor to be saved. It was, after all, God’s love toward us that prompted the coming of Christ in the eternal plan of salvation.
By our love for God and His Christ with our whole heart, soul and mind, we are saved.
By our love for our neighbor, we show forth our salvation.
The goodness and love of God toward us is the very engine of our salvation. His unmerited grace toward us is the second person of the Trinity, come in human flesh, Jesus the Christ!
By His perfect, sinless life, our flesh is made new.
By His death on the cross, our sins are forgiven.
By His resurrection, our new life is made sure.
Let this be the basis of our love for one another. Let us not be fractured and faithless. Let us rather remember that we too were once lost, strangers to the promises of God in Christ. But now, He has shown the greatest love of neighbor in giving of Himself on our behalf. Let us follow in the footsteps of our Savior and give of ourselves for the good and the salvation of others.
Thanks be to God!
Render to Caesar
There’s a lot of talk these days about “bending the knee.” You’ve probably seen all the posts on social media saying stuff like, “I take a knee for Jesus but stand for the flag” or some other such proclamations. While that’s all well and good, I suspect there’s a lot of virtue signaling going on in those posts as well.
The point is that we always bow to something or someone. Humans are created to worship. If you study the creation narrative, there is a lot of worship language and imagery used. There is temple imagery with the Garden, priestly type language used for Adam’s role. Adam was told to work and keep the Garden. This is the same kind of language (same Hebrew) as is used later to describe the role of the priests in keeping the tabernacle and their duties in worship.
Humans are worshipping creatures. We, along with angels, were created to worship something. More appropriately, we were created to worship Someone. Our worship is most properly ordered when we worship rightly the One who is to be worshipped; that is the Creator of all that is, God the Father, God the Son our Redeemer and God the Spirit who indwells us if we are in Christ.
So, while our culture doesn’t talk about worship that much, the undercurrent of worship is there. Here’s what I mean.
Whatever you give yourself to is what you worship. Whatever consumes your time, energy and money is what you worship. You may not call it that but that’s what you’re doing. In fact, the etymology of the word worship basically means to give something worth or worthiness. And man, don’t we see this in our culture today!
Our worth-ship in our world today is given to all sorts of things: our jobs, our financial status, our political party, our kid’s athletic or academic achievements, the size of our homes, the newness of our cars…and the list could go on. We attribute worth to things. Some of those things, of course, have financial worth. But, if we’re being honest, we give more than monetary worth to those things as well. If we’re not careful they begin to define us. And when they begin to define us, we find inevitably that we are, in effect, worshipping those things.
Which brings us to our texts for today. Our OT text is Isaiah 45:1,4-6.
Notice that this prophecy is dealing with a foreign, pagan king. God speaks through His prophet to Cyrus. It’s interesting to note that this pagan is referred to by God as “my anointed.” This term means “messiah.” Cyrus is the only non-Jewish person in the Bible referred to with this title. Why is that interesting? It appears that Cyrus was anointed (at least from this text) to do something specific for the people of God. And what was that? He was to bless and deliver God’s people from captivity to the Babylonian empire. So Cyrus was a deliverer, a redeemer.
But Cyrus was not a deliverer because he was a nice guy. In fact, there is no indication that Cyrus even believed in the God of the Jews. He may have but we just don’t know. From whence did Cyrus get this authority? Where did this mission to help God’s people come from? Look at the text, verses 4-6,
“For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.” (KJV)
God is reminding Cyrus that Cyrus’ power, his authority doesn’t come from himself. The power of Cyrus, even his redeeming work, comes from one source; God alone. Only God has the power to give that kind of authority.
Now let’s look at our Gospel text: Matthew 22:15-21.
I find it slightly hilarious that the Pharisees sent their boys to do their dirty work. I mean, at this point, Jesus had managed to refute every argument they had against him and had just crushed them in open debate. So they sent their boys to try to trap Jesus into saying something wrong. I also find it disingenuous that they called him “Master” since they clearly don’t actually believe that he is their Master. It’s an appropriate title but it’s not like they actually believe that he is the Master.
So they try to trick him into saying something “wrong.” They can’t catch him doing something wrong so they try to catch him saying something wrong. And he calls their bluff. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s.”
To “Caesar” is owed taxes and civil obedience.
To God is owed worship and power and authority and honor and praise!
As followers of Christ the Messiah (the anointed One), we are to be good citizens. We are to obey our governing authorities and “follow the rules” so long as they don’t interfere with our duties to obey God. After all, as St. Peter reminds us in Acts 5:29 “we ought to obey God rather than men.” We are to obey civil authorities.
But we are to bow in worship to God alone. Our status, our achievements, our worth all make lousy gods. But, far too often, we give the worship rightly due to God to the “Caesar” of our life. I want to be clear: I am not encouraging civil disobedience, unless of course it means that our government is telling us to do things that we Christians cannot do.
What I am saying is that our worship, the thing we give most worth to is not a thing or our things but to a Person.
And what a Person He is! Consider our Psalm for the day. I can’t say it any better…
“O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth.
Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people.
For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the Lord made the heavens.
Honour and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength.
Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts.
O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.
Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously.
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.
Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice
Before the Lord: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.”
Let us bend the knee to our Lord Jesus Christ, who was and is and is to come, who has come to dwell among us and live a perfect, human, sinless life, die a sacrificial death, be buried and raised so that we, by faith, may have hope eternally.
Let us praise God alone for His great mercy and love toward us!
Thanks be to God!