Scripture Reflection, October 22, 2023, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b Matthew 22:15-21
There are some interesting sub-texts to consider in today’s readings. Isaiah gives us a peek at King Cyrus of Persia. Cyrus, who reigned in the mid-6th Century B.C. was able to create the largest empire that had ever existed in the Middle East, up to that time. As he conquered one nation after another, he did not concentrate on killing or punishing those he conquered. Rather, he allowed them a measure of self-governance and autonomy. As conquerors go, he was certainly one of the most “benevolent” in history. When the Israelites came under his rule, they were able to begin practicing their religion for the first time in decades, since they had already been in captivity for many years. Cyrus was seen as a tool in the hand of God, helping to restore a measure of freedom and hope to the Israelites. I have long considered Cyrus to be a rather remarkable king, who exercised considerably more compassion and mercy than your average “conqueror”.
Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, contains one of my favorite passage in all his letters. It begins with the line: “We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers….” Think back to greeting cards you’ve received over the years from people who wish to thank you, or to affirm you. On such cards you can frequently find the aforementioned words; used in order to let you know how much you are appreciated. It is no accident that Paul uses these words here. The Thessalonians are considered by many scripture scholars to be among Paul’s favorite early Christian communities.
In Matthew’s Gospel, we find Jesus - always the smartest and most clever person in any room - once again getting the drop on the Pharisees who are once again trying (once again unsuccessfully) to trick him into making a seditious comment they can use against him with the Roman occupiers. Jesus is so clever in his response to them, that we sometimes miss the significance of the very last line of this passage: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. “ Over the years, some scholars have wondered if this is a reference to keeping a healthy separation between church and state. However, many now consider that it is meant to remind the listener that the things that belong to God are to be held in greater esteem than the things that belong to any earthly ruler. As we have heard many times in scripture, in homilies, and in other sacred texts: to God belongs all power and honor and glory. In other words, this passage is meant to put the things of this world in their place, subjugated to the important characteristics of God. And God is to be honored and revered far more than any earthly king or ruler.
How might such a realization play out in your own life? Something to think about. Something to pray about!
by: Bill Miller