Reflection for Sunday – October 22, 2023

Readings: Isaiah 45:1,4-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b; Matthew 22:15-21 
Preacher: Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler

Wow! There’s a lot to unpack in today’s readings, isn’t there?

Isaiah makes a stunning announcement.  His hearers must surely have been taken aback!  The God of surprises is choosing a pagan king. Yes, a pagan king! Calling him anointed, that is, messiah, for heaven’s sake!

Actually, that’s the point: it is for heaven’s sake. God looks after God’s people, even when they’ve gone astray. Seems as though God has a couple of things in mind: The liberation of God’s people, Israel. and that, through Israel, God would be acknowledged throughout the world. Twice God declares “I am the Lord. There is no other.” There is no other!

Which brings us to the genius of the trap the religious leaders set for Jesus in today’s Gospel. Stung by Jesus’ sharp criticisms of them in his parables., they are teaming up with their enemies, the Herodians. To get rid of him.

And they think they have him trapped. No matter how he answers their question. Approving payment of the hated tax means the crowds will turn against him. And opposing it would bring down on him the wrath of the Roman state.

Jesus confounds them by asking to see the coin needed to pay the tax. And asking them whose image is on the coin. The image, of course, is of the emperor. And the inscription declares he is divine. For religious Jews, that presents a problem. They believe only YHWH is divine. There is no other. They likely had a problem with a “graven image,” as well. Did possessing the coin declaring Caesar a god give the plot away?

If Caesar’s image on the coin indicates that it belongs to him, what does that imply about us? We who, Scripture tells us, are made in the image and likeness of God? God’s image, etched on our hearts at birth. “Give to God what belongs to God” is a demand with no fixed boundaries.

Two insights occur to me: First, the whole human race is one. We belong to God. All of us. All of us, made in God’s image, are sisters and brothers in God’s family. Christian and pagan. Muslim and Jew. Palestinian and Israeli. Republicans and Democrats. Rude neighbor or difficult boss. Whomever we are “othering” is our sister or brother. As last week’s homily reminded us, God’s community—the one Jesus came to reveal—is open to all. And is enlivened by God’s grace.

Second, by that grace, we are called to grow into the image of God etched on our hearts. To choose more and more to reflect the actions and attitudes of Jesus. Who brought forgiveness and healing. Jesus, the face of God for us. Matthew 25 describes more of what that looks like: welcome the stranger, feed the poor, clothe the naked, etc. As a community, we are called to work together. To choose the common good for God’s family. We belong to God. All of us.

And that will cost us. Whatever his faults, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy decided to work together with Democrats—“the other–for the good of the country.  There are those who say his efforts to prevent default and a government shutdown were half-hearted, but the point is, even the smallest step was enough to cost him his life’s dream. 

“Give to God what belongs to God” is a demand with no fixed boundaries.  God is sovereign over all other authority. Made in God’s image, you and I cannot split off our commitment to the gospel from the government. Our Sunday prayers and rituals are not detachable from our political lives.

As God’s grace leads you and me into a deeper understanding of Jesus’ command, let our hearts sing the hymn “Take, oh, take me as I am. Summon out what I shall be. Set your seal upon my heart and live in me.”

Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler
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