By Kathryn Aubry-McAvoy
Today, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is tested again, and Jesus, like a good rabbi, answers the test question with another question, and then he often tells a parable to shine a light on God’s truth. It’s as if he’s saying, “this is how the kingdom of God on earth should be”.
These last few Sunday gospels have been dramatic… the story a couple of weeks ago of a King who gives a wedding banquet, where guests behave badly and the King banishes a poor fellow for wearing the wrong outfit. Jesus explains the difference between a dress code and radical, welcoming hospitality. Two sons, one who says yes to his father’s request for work and then skips out, the other says no, but turns round right and gets to work, Jesus says the sorriest among you who say yes to God will be the first in heaven; (actions speak louder than words), and builders who don’t recognize the strongest sturdiest cornerstone, which just might be Jesus himself?
My imagination seems to be blossoming during this pandemic. Spending everyday with a 3 year old who has the best ever make-believe ideas has been helpful. We had a great “phone” conversation the other day with two bananas! Also contributing is my addiction to Netfliz crime dramas (I like the ones set in Norway or Finland: they are cold and dark and there is a brooding, lead character who says little but speaks wisely.
These gospels, and the parables that Jesus tells, are tales that are meant to confound, confuse and ultimately amaze us. If you read them over a few times, it’s easy to imagine yourself in the action; you could be a main character or an onlooker in the crowd.
Try putting yourself in different roles. The more you read it, the more the drama builds.
I imagine I’m an onlooker; (I’d like to be more comfortable with conflict, I’m working on it!) I imagine I’m off to the side of the crowd, taking it all in, sitting in a market stall, weaving purple cloth.
And so the play begins today in the Temple. Two groups have gathered, Pharisees (pius Jews, very concerned with obedience to Jewish law), and Herodians, (likely followers of Herod, Jews also, but more interested in the governments’ finances). They intend to confront and confound Jesus with a question that puts him between a rock and a hard place. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” they ask. One answer breaks Jewish law, the other angers the government. (Jesus and his band of scruffy followers do not have a penny (or rather a denarius) in their pockets.)
The Pharisees and Herodians flatter Jesus, telling him that he is sincere and a good teacher. I love that Jesus doesn’t let them get away with this; he calls them out…hypocrites, he says, flattery from one side, trickery from the other. They bully him: “You’re so smart, is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
Jesus does not allow himself to be tricked, and his answer is short and amazing. He says “Yes, the emperor’s head and title are on the coin, it is his. Give him his due, and also, give to God what is God’s.
We know we must “pay the tax’ also. We need roads and good schools and we must contribute to the cost of managing and preserving this wonderful world, but what would it be like if we remembered that all of it belongs to God, that all these worldly things are God’s, not Caesars, and not ours. What if we chose God’s way of love, liberation and justice as we support our institutions, our government and our personal lives? //
After all, we believe that everything we have is only on loan to us from God. We believe that at God’s command all things came to be, from the primal elements God brought all things forth. As we sing in the Venite: “the sea is his for he made it, and his hand has molded the dry land. We are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. //
The kingdom of God on earth is Gods. Everything. Every soul, every flower, and every dollar.
What would it be like if we applied the principals of God’s kingdom (not Caesars) to every decision we made. We have been given reason and choice. Could we align our choices and decisions with the description of God’s “kingdom on earth” that Jesus teaches us in these parables? Does that decision, that vote or that dollar spent, honor God as the Mother and Father of everyone and everything, and does it lead us further into a world of love, liberation and justice?
It’s amazing to think it could be so! Amen
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