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!
This week’s readings:
Isaiah 55:6-9 Philippians 1:20-24, 27(a)
Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18 Matthew 20:1-16(a)
I feel like our society is in a really weird place right now. We have an entire generation of Americans who have decided they want to decide for themselves what is “fair” and “right” and they will throw a fit if they don’t get it. In fairness, we’ve probably always been this way, we humans. We’ve kind of always acted like we’ve known better and we’re smarter and cooler and such than those who have come before us.
I mean, Adam and Eve thought that as well, in a sense. God created them and put them in this perfect place in perfect relationship with Himself and the world He had created for them. All they had to do was live as He said. But they knew better.
For a long time I would read the parable from this week’s gospel and just be flummoxed as to how I was supposed to think about it. I mean, on the surface, it just doesn’t seem right. It seems like the guys who worked all day got screwed in this deal. And I really struggled with Jesus saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like this…”
I was like, hold on, this doesn’t seem right. How could the Kingdom of Heaven be so unfair? I mean, isn’t that what we say in our hearts? Isn’t that what Adam and Eve thought after the serpent deceived them?
This doesn’t seem fair.
Why can’t we eat from this tree?
Why am I slaving all day in the sun and only getting paid this?
I pray and “put good things in” as far as the world is concerned. I’m a good person. Why is this happening?
This doesn’t seem fair.
Who does God think He is? He owes me!
Am I the only one that thinks like this sometimes?
This parable is like that. I mean, we read it and we agree with the guys that were complaining. But the fact is that they had a deal. They had an agreement that was just and right. I find it poignant that the “landowner” says,
“What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”
That hits hard, doesn’t it? Have we asked ourselves that question? When things “work out” for others and not for us, are we envious because God is generous?
Then we read the Psalm for the day and we are reminded,
“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works. The Lord is near to all who call upon him. The LORD is just in all his ways and holy in all his works.”
We’re tempted to look at things as we want them and we think God is unkind to us. The Psalmist reminds us that, despite what we “feel,” God is indeed kind and merciful and gracious. How can that be, we ask, when things aren’t working out in a way that we think is fair?
Because God is not like us. I fear we too often put God in our human shaped box. We expect Him to be like us and He is nothing like us. The prophet Isaiah reminds us in this week’s OT reading,
“Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
He is not like us. We are not like Him.
We say we want fair.
We really don’t want fair. We want mercy. Mercy isn’t fair. Fair would be an eternity separated from God’s mercy (we call this Hell). God’s mercy is a gift that we don’t get to negotiate. Because He is the giver of the gift, it is His to give as He wills. If we’re honest, the ingratitude expressed by the workers in the parable is ours also. We want the gift of salvation but we want to negotiate the terms of that salvation.
His ways are not our ways. God gives as He wills, not as we will.
And that is a very good thing!
Thanks be to God for His great mercy toward us!