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

Kings?

I Kings 2: 10-12, 3: 3-14; Psalm 111 or Psalm 34: 9-14; Ephesians 5: 15-20; John 6: 51-58

The Old Testament reading this week culminates the summer-long focus on the David cycle throughout I and II Samuel. We’ve followed David from his anointing by old Samuel while David was a young shepherd boy through his confrontation and victory over Goliath, his rivalry with and eventual succession of King Saul, his consolidation of power and making Jerusalem his capital, bringing the Ark of the Covenant to the city and his ecstatic dancing before it, to his adulterous and murderous relationship with Bathsheba, his confrontation with the prophet Nathan, to the death of his son Absalom while trying to overthrow his father. Finally, this week, we read the verse “Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David” (I Kings 2:10). Wow! What a story. Read more

Ascension Politics

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53 (The Feast of the Ascension)

St. Augustine considered the Feast of the Ascension the crown of all Christian festivals. Today we may give it an obligatory nod as we make our way liturgically from Easter to Pentecost, but we’re often not quite sure what to do with it theologically, pastorally, exegetically. The clunky literalism routinely inspired by the Luke-Acts vision of the ascension—Jesus rocketing upward into outer space—is not a little embarrassing.

Whatever historical event lies behind the Luke-Acts narratives of Jesus’ ascension into heaven—and the fact that the two accounts differ in important ways might be a clue that a surface-literal reading is not what the author had in mind—a couple of things stand out: the centrality of worship and the reimagining of “all rule and authority and power and dominion.”

Tom Wright points out that Luke’s gospel ends, as it began, in the Temple at Jerusalem. “Worship of the living God,” Wright says, “is at the heart of Luke’s vision of the Christian life.” Jesus’ ascension into heaven, then, is not “beam me up, Scotty” science fiction, but rather that which makes possible the church’s existence. Read more

By Whose Authority?

Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28

A little word history from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

Authority: First written appearance in English: 1230, autorite “book or quotation that settles an argument,” from from L. nom. auctoritas ,”invention, advice, opinion, influence, command,” from auctor “author.” Used to mean “power to enforce obedience” is from 1393; meaning “people in authority” is from 1611. Authoritative first recorded 1609. Authoritarian is recorded from 1879.

Power: First written appearance in English: 1297, from L. potis “powerful” Used to mean “a state or nation with regard to international authority or influence” dates from 1726. Powerful is c.1400. The powers that be is from Rom. 13:1. Read more

Love and Power

Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

I’m a political junkie. And like many addicts, I’ve been bingeing lately, and I’m not proud of it. I know better (as most junkies do), but I can’t seem to help myself. Two weeks of convention hoopla—spin and jive, sentiment and spectacle, smugness and sarcasm—have left me more hopeless than ever about the state of political discourse in the United States of America.

Where’s the maturity and civility and humility? Where’s the courage to cast our political, economic, and moral challenges in the nuanced ways they require? Why are we afraid of complexity, subtlety, complicated truth? And perhaps most distressing: Why are we so hostile to one another? Read more