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!
I have cried watching movies before.
I mean, if we’re being honest. The most recent time I cried watching a movie was at Easter, this year, when I watched, again, “The Passion of The Christ.” I was, and still am, in the latter stages of officially joining the Catholic Church and still kind of processing some things in my mind and heart. There comes the scene in the movie where Jesus’ cross is being lifted up and the scene flashes back and forth between the crucifixion and the Last Supper. As Jesus’ cross is lifted up, we see the scene where He lifts up the bread He will break and we see the lights come on for the Apostle John. It’s a powerful scene and I broke down. I tell that story to illustrate what I'm talking about today...
As my journey into the rich tradition of the Church deepened, I ran into another kind of hurdle.
First off, I didn’t even know that that meant. I had to look up the word Eucharist. Basically, it means “thanksgiving.” It’s a little more complex than that but that’s the basic meaning. Most Protestants call it “The Lord’s Supper,” or “Communion.”
I want to say very clearly here before I go much further: In discussing the Holy Eucharist, we must approach with great caution. Here’s what I mean by that. We are delving into things that are very great mysteries that we will never, on this side of the Parousia, fully understand. Having said that, this is really important and there are a lot of things about the Holy Eucharist that we can understand. Furthermore, what we cannot always understand by reason, we can accept by faith. My treatment on this post of the Holy Eucharist will by no means be exhaustive. Tomes have been written on this by many people way smarter than me. My intent is not to give a full theological treatment to this topic; rather, to discuss very briefly how I came to this position.
I want to begin this one, not by talking about Church history even though the Church has had much to say about this matter, but by considering the words of our Lord first. If you have a Bible, I suggest reading John 6 to start.
Once you read that, I think we’re pretty much done here.
Ha! I’m kidding. In all seriousness, that text is pretty clear. Jesus was abundantly clear. There’s not a lot of wiggle room there. He said (paraphrasing slightly), “You have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” And, by the way, there was no mistaking what He said. It’s pretty clear from the text that the Jews knew exactly what He meant by what He said. In fact, it was so clear to them that they were like, “Is this dude nuts? We can’t eat his flesh and drink his blood.” Notice that Jesus didn’t back down. He didn’t say, “You’re misunderstanding me guys. I was speaking metaphorically. I didn’t mean what you think that means. It’s symbolic only.” He didn’t say that. In fact, He doubled down. And that’s when everybody started leaving. Do we really think people would leave if Jesus was speaking metaphorically?
Now let’s consider the Last Supper, at which Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist. You can read Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and even 1 Corinthians 11. I want us to first look at what Jesus said. This is super important.
Can I just be really brutally honest? One of the things that I became really frustrated with within my former Protestant tradition was a lack of taking seriously the plain meaning of the text of Holy Scripture. I mean, my Baptist people had no problem taking some texts literally but then the ones that made them uncomfortable were explained away by, “Well that’s not what that means.” Enough of that, back to the text…
Read those texts. What did Jesus say? He said, “This is My body….This is My blood.” He did not say, “This represents My body and blood” or “This is a memorial of My body and blood” or any other linguistic gymnastics Protestants want to do with this. Jesus, our Lord and Savior, said very plainly, “This is My body…This is My blood.”
I should just drop the mic and walk away now. I mean, really. Doesn’t this pretty much settle any debate, erase all doubts? It should.
What’s the point you may ask? Why is it necessary that Jesus do this and ask us to do this?
“He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages and to entrust to the Church his Spouse a memorial of his death and resurrection.” (USCCB)
But isn’t it just bread and wine? I mean, it’s not really Jesus’ body and blood, is it? Why would something so “crass” be true? Why can’t it just be symbolic?
Because that’s not what Jesus has given us.
Because God inhabits and uses physical matter to give to us His grace. Water for baptism, bread and wine for sustenance. God uses His creation. I mean, He came in the flesh after all.
As I ran headlong into this, I was astounded to learn that the unanimous position of the early Church was of the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
There is so much more I could say, so very much more. But this is a blog post, not a doctoral dissertation. I am happy to recommend resources for you if you want to learn and study more.
For me, this has become an unspeakable comfort to me. Now I don’t have to conjure up some emotional feeling. Now I don’t have to wonder, “Is Jesus really here with us as we worship?” Now I don’t have to close my eyes and try really hard to imagine a spiritual concept. No, I have, we have, the Church has, before her very eyes week after week, day after day, a flesh and blood physical reminder…nay, the very body, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus and not merely a reminder.
We have been given a very great gift by our Lord, Church! We have this most blessed assurance of the presence of our Lord in His very body, blood, soul and divinity in the Blessed Sacrament! Oh Church, what a gift of His grace!
Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world! Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!