roman coin

Who Decides?

18th Sunday after Pentecost
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 45:1-7 OR Exodus 33:12-13
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Our Gospel lesson is the well-known but short debate between Jesus and the Religious Authorities over rendering taxes to Caesar or to God. It is common for us to hear Jesus saying, “Give unto Caesar that which is his and give unto God that which is his,” as a statement on the separation of Church and State. Only in the most indirect way is this a statement on church and state. It sounds like Jesus is saying that we should balance church and state, God and Caesar; sort of 50/50, half and half kind of approach.

Jesus’ interest has little to do with making a statement about the separation of church and state, which has to do with political involvement by the church in the affairs of state and religious involvement by the state in the affairs of the church. Church/State separation is a constitutional issue and only in an indirect way is related to what Jesus is talking about here. Read more

It’s About Us

18th Sunday After Pentecost; 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

Perhaps our response to Sunday’s lectionary gospel text ought to be Quaker-like silence.

It’s Matthew, after all, so we are familiar with the uncompromising eschatology. But what to say? It’s a passage that contains one of the hard(est) sayings of Jesus: plenty of mystery but seemingly little grace.

In Matthew’s version of the parable of the wedding banquet (would that it was Luke’s!), a king plans a great nuptial feast for his son. Twice he sends slaves to summon the invited guests but, for reasons left unsaid, “they would not come.” (The second wave of slaves are brutally slaughtered by some of the guests—a shocking, inscrutable over-reaction that prefigures more violence to come). Read more

grape vines

Let Others Decide

16th Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 5:1-7
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

I call myself a gardener. I’ve even written how-to articles on growing things. But anyone who took a look at the burned-over mess in my front yard this year would have their doubts. Whatever my thoughts about myself, whatever a byline might state, this summer I failed to live up to that title. I failed, in my distractions and the particular demands of this drought season, to carry out the disciplines necessary to be a gardener. I was glad to claim the title “gardener” and not suffer the heat, time and sweat that would really make me one.

Because of this experience, I can understand some of what the Pharisees must have felt as they heard Jesus’ parable—they were God’s people, the rightful inhabitants of the promise-land, the keepers of the Law. “To be God’s people”: that was how they defined themselves, particularly among their pagan neighbors and occupiers. But Jesus calls into question that identity. It is not the status of place or people that matter; it is the fruit, the outcomes, the actions. In this way Jesus is something of a pragmatist: what matters are not abstract realities or truths; we may call things true only when they actually make a difference. Read more


So Much Unfairness of Things

15th Sunday after Pentecost
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21: 23-32

“You can’t conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone
the … appalling … strangeness of the mercy of God.”
-Graham Greene, Brighton Rock

Mrs. Turpin, the main character in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “Revelation,” (published 1965) is grateful. She’s aware, after all, that God could have created things differently. She might not have been white or middle class, which, she thanks God, she is. She’s even grateful that her daily, sometimes distasteful, encounters with poor blacks and “white trash” remind her that “…one had to have certain things before you could know certain things.”

What she knows is this: she lives in a fair and ordered world, each person occupying the place he or she deserves and awaiting, in the life to come, a just and well-earned reward. If she weren’t such a mid-twentieth century model of Southern primness, she might be mistaken for a twenty-first century bourgeois Buddhist hipster, knowingly whispering, “karma’s a bitch,” in the presence of the unenlightened.

But there’s another thing Mrs. Turpin knows: the world is neither so fair nor so ordered as she would like. Life’s chaos and unfairness gnaws at her and she finds herself grasping for reassurance, often with disturbing results: Read more

manna gathering

Bread from Heaven

14th Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 16.2-15, Psalm 145.1-8, Philippians 1.21-30, Matthew 20.1-16

I’m the oldest of four lively children. As an adult I’m very aware of the strain that my siblings and I put on my parents. Raising children does not come with a “How To” guide and the four Wilson children found every kind of way to put parents to the test. Growing up, my father could often be heard to say in both frustration and resignation, “with you kids if it’s not one thing it’s another!” I suspect that something very much like this sentiment could be heard in the grumblings of the Israelites. As they left the Red Sea they immediately encountered a trial in the form of draught. The scarcity of water was overcome by the gift of Elim, where “there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees.”(Ex. 15.27) In Exodus 16 as the Israelites set out from Elim they are once more confronted by scarcity. This time it’s a shortage of food. As my father would say, “if it’s not one thing it’s another.” On the surface of the reading, the occasion for such grumbling is yet another occasion of lack. However, the real problem the Israelites face in the Wilderness of Sin is one of memory and identity. Read more