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!
Let me ask you something. Actually several somethings.
What do you think salvation means?
What is the point of salvation?
Are we “saved” simply to go to heaven when we die?
What does the “kingdom of heaven” refer to?
These are all questions that are brought to my mind when I look at this week’s readings. I must admit that I had not really thought a lot about all this until just a few years ago. I began to read Holy Scriptures and the Church Fathers together and some things immediately became clear to me.
It became clear to me that I had no idea what Jesus meant by a lot of what He said. It also became clear than my hermeneutic (the way I interpret Holy Scripture) was very different than the way the Fathers did. I had been trained to use historical critical methodology whereas the Fathers seemed to be much more “spiritual” and typological in their interpretation of Holy Scripture.
So I began to look at Holy Scripture a little differently. Specifically, I began to read Holy Scripture in a Christological way. Right about now you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about so let me get into these texts a bit.
I was told as a boy growing up in the home of a pastor that the point of being “saved” was to go to heaven. While that sounds really good, I have to say that does not square at all with what Holy Scriptures seem to give us. Rather than messages of “we’re going to heaven when we die,” the Bible seems to indicate that something even more radical will happen.
God will come here.
Look at our OT text for today: Isaiah 25:6-10. I’m going to be working from the KJV and Douay-Rheims today. Read that text slowly and look for the images it conjures in your mind. First, there is an image of a great feast; “a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lee, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.”
This is a great feast of great abundance. This is the good stuff, as the saying goes. We see this image somewhere else, don’t we? We see it in the Gospel reading today but we see it again in the Apostle John’s Apocalypse (Revelation) chapters 19-21. But we’ll come back to that.
Keep reading the Isaiah text. The prophet tells us that the Lord of hosts will destroy the “veil” that covers all people, indicating that there is something that is covering us, blinding us to reality. He will swallow up death, He will wipe away tears, He will take away the “rebuke” of the people. Verse 9 tells us that He will “save us” and that, on this “mountain” we will “be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” In verse 10 he tells us that “the hand of the Lord shall rest in this mountain (Douay-Rheims).”
Look at these images. These are images of wholeness, abundance and peace that are all linked with salvation.
Looks a little different than “we’re gonna get outta here and go to heaven.” Looks and sounds way better to me!
Now let’s consider our Gospel reading: Matthew 22:1-14. Here we have Jesus doing what He does and giving us a parable to explain things. Look at this text and the imagery we see. What jumps out? The word marriage or wedding is used eight times in both the KJV and Douay-Rheims. What imagery does this convey to us? It’s kind of echoing our Isaiah text in imagery. When we attend a wedding, the food is usually abundant and good, right? The wine (or other drinks) are typically flowing, people are dancing, laughing. It is a place and time of great joy! Jesus is telling us that this is what the Kingdom is like. This is what salvation is like!
The King Himself has set the banquet…and for what reason? The Son is getting married! Once again, this hearkens us to Revelation 19-21 and the marriage supper of the Lamb. And this wedding feast, these nuptials are open to all.
Look at the text. Some were invited but they chose not to go. Some who chose not to go also chose to murder the servants that invited them (the prophets). So what does the King say? “Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid them to the marriage.” (KJV) All are invited to the marriage feast of the Son!
But just because you are invited doesn’t mean you can just “come as you are.” We see the stern warning in verses 11-14. Dress appropriately. What does that mean?
St. Augustine, and other Fathers, took this wedding garment to be charity. What does that mean? It means that our wedding garment is how we have lived our lives according to the virtues given to us by grace as we have obeyed the commands of God. Yes, you are welcome to the feast out of a free gift of grace, but you must be clothed in the garments given to us by living a virtuous life. When the King comes, you better be dressed appropriately.
St. John Chrysostom puts it this way,
“To enter with unclean garments, is to depart out of this life in the guilt of sin. For those are no less guilty of manifesting a contempt for the Deity, who presume to sit down in the filth of an unclean conscience, than those who neglected to answer the invitations of the Almighty. He is said to be silent, because having nothing to advance in his own defence, he remains self-condemned, and is hurried away to torments; the horrors of which words can never express.”
Let’s go back to our questions we started with. What do we think salvation means? What is the point of salvation?
King David tells us what salvation means. He tells us what the point of salvation is in our Psalm reading/chant today. Psalm 23 tells us,
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Brothers and sisters, what a gift we’ve been given! Look at our readings today and see what God has given us.
He has given us all we need in the Son; we have no other wants.
He gives us the peace of green pastures and still waters in His love.
He restores our soul and leads us in the paths of righteousness.
He calms our fears by granting us the presence of His Spirit.
He prepares for us a feast of good things that we will partake of both now and finally at His great marriage supper when our cup will overflow and His love will dwell with us forever.
He will dwell with us, in His world, His house, forever and we shall have the goodness and mercy of God the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit forever and ever, world without end!
Thanks be to God!