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Proper 24, Year A, Tr 2 (Trinity 18), 19.10.2014
Isa 45.1-7: Cyrus as named (and anointed) by God
Ps 96.1-9, (10-13): re the nations
1 Thess 1.1-10: rescue us from the wrath that is coming
Matt 22.15-22: eikon (1133)
God, our judge and saviour, teach us to be open to your truth and to trust in your love,
that we may live each day with confidence in the salvation which is given
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We as the image of God in Christ are the sign of his reign of love.
This morning let us look at each of our readings.
Our first reading is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.
The Books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel are read as scrolls in
synagogue. It is striking that these
three scrolls are all of a similar length. This
is believed to have happened because additional materials of a similar nature
were gradually added to the scrolls until the whole length of a scroll was
filled up. In the case of the scroll
of Isaiah, the prophetic preaching of Isaiah, a prophet of the 8th
century BC, lies behind chapters 1-39. Chapters
40-55 are believed to be from a prophet at the end of the exile in
Our reading from Isaiah talks about Cyrus.
For thirty years, from 559 to 530 BC, the Persian king, Cyrus the Great,
built up a huge empire starting from Medea.
Babylonia fell to Cyrus
in 539, after which the exiled Jews were allowed by Cyrus to return to
Our Isaiah passage is picked up in the letter to the Philippians.
This lovely letter of encouragement was written in Paul’s name very
shortly, I believe, after Paul was put to death in
Now for today’s second reading which is the opening of 1 Thessalonians.
There are 13 letters in the NT bearing Paul’s
name, but in my judgement only five of them are by Paul himself and this is not
one of them.
The author speaks of Jesus as rescuing
us from the wrath that is coming. Paul
himself uses the word ‘wrath’ only in Romans, and then it is simply the
inevitable consequence of turning from God’s love.
In the OT God’s wrath is used to bring Israel to repentance, but in
Romans (2.4) Paul says that it is the krestotes, the ‘kindness’ of
God that will lead to repentance, and Paul, unlike some of those who write in
his name, never speaks of the ‘wrath of God’.
For my part, I
prefer to follow Paul’s emphasis in Romans on the God’s unbreakable love in
Christ Jesus rather than any sense of being rescued from an impending wrath.
And now to our gospel. This
is a story that is in Mark and Luke
as well as Matthew. In Mark’s
gospel it is the chief priests, the scribes and the elders who send Pharisees
and Herodians to trap Jesus in what he says, but here in Matthew it is
For Matthew it is the Pharisees themselves and their scribes who are the
real “baddies”, for they are preventing all those good Jews from the
synagogue across the street, so to speak, from acknowledging Jesus as the
Messiah and becoming his disciples. So
in Matthew it is the Pharisees themselves who send some of their disciples along
with the Herodians to set the trap. The
Pharisees represent a very pious and intense lay reform movement in first
century Judaism, while, on the other hand, the Herodians were apparently
supporters of the rule and policies of Herod Antipas, who ruled under the aegis
Now, to start with, they put Jesus on a pedestal: “Teacher, you are
true and teach the way of God and care for no man.”
And then, they throw in the question that they believe will pull him
down. “Is it lawful to pay taxes
to the Emperor or not?”
If Jesus says it is lawful, then he will lose the support of all the Jews
who bitterly resent the domination of their land by the
If, on the other hand, he says it is not lawful, the Herodians can report
him to the Roman authorities who will arrest him.
Jesus is fully aware of this, and he puts them off their stride with the
demand that they show him the money used to pay the tax.
They themselves bring him a denarius, a small silver coin.
That is, they are not averse to handling it and using it in transactions
to buy and sell goods. Now Jesus
counters their question with his own question: “Whose head is this, and whose
title?” Actually the Greek used is
not kephale, “head”, but eikon, “image”.
The disciples of the Pharisees have no option but to reply, “The
And now Jesus gives his answer to their initial question: “Give
therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the
things that are God’s”.
They are not puzzled; they don’t say, “Yes, but...”
They don’t try to ask him another question.
Instead they are left speechless. They
are simply amazed, so they leave him, and they go away.
Why? The answer quite simply
lies in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1, verses 26 to 28: “Then God said,
‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness... So God
created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and
female he created them.”
If the coin belongs to Caesar’s realm, then all humankind belongs to
God’s realm. If the coin is a
symbol of the gamut of the
This is the calling that is set forth in today’s gospel.