The Conundrum of a Coin

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 45:1-7 OR Exodus 33:12-23
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Some years ago I was working with a medical team in rural Honduras. We were in a village new to us, seeing many patients while assessing if the area had sufficient need and community interest to establish a permanent clinic there. It was Semana Santa (Holy Week), and there was a lot going on. The small Catholic parroquia was the center of fervent liturgical prayer and sometimes gruesome pageantry, including a Stations of the Cross procession through town on Good Friday and a bonfire on the church square to begin Saturday night’s Easter Vigil.

The medical team, however, was staying on the roomier grounds of the nearby Iglesia Evangelica, which observed the week before Easter rather more quietly. The pastor was an engaging man who worked tirelessly for the welfare of his congregation and extended great hospitality to his North America guests. Without his assistance, easygoing manner, and negotiating skills, the medical mission would have failed.

Judging from his church’s communal worship, though, Semana Santa seemed just another week, with evening Bible study and Wednesday church services that hinted at – rather than calling attention to – the significance of the Sunday to come. Even so, it still surprised me when, on Easter morning, he chose as his Sermon text the opening verses of Romans 13.

As best I could grasp with my inadequate Spanish, we were to understand the Resurrection to mean salvation was now available to anyone who put faith in Jesus and obeyed the secular government. Later that afternoon, I – along with a few others from the medical team – asked him to elaborate. Though I was again hindered by my inadequate command of the language, I managed to ask if Paul’s instruction that “every person be subject to the authorities, for there is no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1), was in any way qualified by what preceded it in Romans 12, or by the knowledge that those very authorities later put Paul to death.

Judging from his response, I’d hit some raw and tender nerve. He looked at me and said, “You don’t understand. The reason this country is poor and the reason there are drunks in this town is because there are Catholic churches – like the one just up the hill – with statues in them.” And that, for him, was the end of our discussion.

I share this story not to shame a good man, but to illustrate in a particularly colorful way how certain scripture texts – such as Romans 13:1-7 or this Sunday’s gospel reading – can launch some Christians off the exegetical rails. Read more

The Day the Circus Left Town

Micah 6:1-8
Psalm 15
I Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12

Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward [human beings]. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?

Deitrich Bonhoeffer, “After Ten Years” Read more

There’s a New Kid / King In Town

First Sunday after Christmas
Isaiah 63:7-9
Psalm 148
Hebrews 2:10-18
Matthew 2:13-23

Sweet little Jesus Boy —
They made you be born in a manger.
Sweet little Holy Child —
Didn’t know who you was.
Didn’t know you’d come to save us, Lord;
To take our sins away.
Our eyes was blind, we couldn’t see,
We didn’t know who you was.

-Robert MacGimsey, Sweet Little Jesus Boy (1934)

One of my favorite Christmas Eve memories from childhood is sitting in the dim light of the sanctuary at my grandparent’s Methodist church in Richmond, VA. Every year the same heavy set man with the deep baritone voice would sit on a stool in the middle of the chancel area with his guitar and sing an acoustic solo of Robert MacGimsey’s 1934 Christmas tune, Sweet Little Jesus Boy.

Reading the gospel lesson for this first Sunday after Christmas this year, I’m not sure that I agree anymore. Herod, it seems, knew exactly who Jesus was…and he was afraid. Jesus, born King of the Jews, threatens this puppet king installed by Rome to maintain order in Judea. Read more

You Want It Darker

The Third Sunday of Advent

 

 

Isaiah 35:1-10 (vv. 1-6a, 10 in Lectionary for Mass)
Psalm 146:5-10 (vv. 6-10 in LM)
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

“They’re lining up the prisoners and the guards are taking aim.”

Leonard Cohen

A confession: I do not know how to write about these Advent texts as if the events of the last month (and the many months prior) were politics as usual in the United States of America. You know—a couple of slick, scripted candidates square off, make promises they won’t keep; one emerges the victor, half the nation sighs and shrugs, and then we all get back to the business of our busy lives. Good God, no.

In fact, I think the events of the last month and what they portend for the future put into sharp relief the piercing critique that the texts of Advent bring to bear on the politics of fear and intimidation, on authoritarian rule and its contempt for truth, on stunningly ill-prepared leaders and their fragile egos. Read more