29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

Let us pray our 2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-5…

 This letter was probably written about 50-51 AD.  Paul was a tentmaker who came in contact with many in the Gentile world. A riot broke out in this city among the Jewish population who resented Paul’s successful reaching out to the Gentiles there.  Paul and Silvanus had to flee.  Because of this hasty departure, Paul soon writes this letter to express his prayerful thoughts and wishes for this new ‘church’ . . .  (Birmingham, W & W, p.544-545)

1st Reading — Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6

Cyrus was a Persian of Indo-European descent, who rose to power quickly.  In fewer than 20 years, he was victorious over Media (549 BC), then over Lydia (546 BC) and finally over Babylonia (539 BC).  This made him the head of the largest empire of the then known world. Because he was tolerant and understanding of differences, his reign was seen as a real turning point in ancient history. He allowed all who had been taken into exile by Babylonia to return to their own lands.  The time of exile for the Jews had become a time for rethinking about and deepening their faith, rather than a time for all-out despair.  Newly reliant on God, the exiles were eager to discover and welcome those signs of divine involvement that were pointed out to them by the prophets.  So while the pagan world saw Cyrus as being taken by the hand of Bel-Marduk, the chief god of Babylonia, the Jews saw Cyrus as being used by Yahweh, the one and only God, to free his people and bring them home.  (Celebrations, October, 1999 & 2002)

This 2nd Isaiah proclaims that true reality is a theocracy where God rules. Despite the reality of exile and hardship, God is ultimately in charge. Here we see the prophet giving voice to a rather new insight for the Jews. Their God who had protected them, called them out of slavery, and formed them as a nation also cared about other people. Their God was the God that was over all people guiding and caring for all throughout history. History is a stream in which light and darkness, well-being and evil are constantly mingled. But this prophet would have us trust that God is in the mingling and the flowing stream of life. (Celebration, Oct. 2005)

The Gospel – Matthew 22: 15-21

John Pilch points out that in Jesus’ culture such public questioning was never neutral – it was always seen as challenging to one’s honor. Jesus, too, ‘values’ honor – but his ‘honor’ comes from authentically pleasing God. He shows his questioners to be hypocrites by the very fact that they can present the Roman coin, something very shameful for the Pharisee to even touch much less to have with him or one of ‘his friends,’ the Herodians. These two groups were usually enemies, but they seem willing to ‘swallow’ what seems right in order to ‘get’ Jesus and to shame him. Jesus, nevertheless, exposes their true shame before the people. Jesus would like them to see that they should drop their game playing and do what is pleasing to God. (The Cultural World of Jesus, cycle A, 151-153)

Tertullian (160-220 AD) called humans “the coins of God” who belong to God. First and foremost, we are God’s. Rome demanded a denarius, one day’s wage, from everyone in the empire. Jesus seemed not to be too bothered by this fact. But, he takes seriously that God wants all that we are – not for our detriment, but for life. Only God is Lord of all. (Celebration, Oct. 2005)

St Thomas More (later beheaded by King Henry VIII of England) said that when a person separates their conscience from their public duty, they rush the nation toward chaos.  What do you think?

Note how focused and ‘centered’ Jesus is. He does not get flustered by their false praise or their desire to trap him. He shows us that when God is truly the center of our lives, there is no problem with giving others their due. Conversely, giving others their due does not necessarily compromise God as the center of our lives. Jesus shows that single-mindedness about God is even better expressed when we know clearly God’s place — then we know everyone else’s place. (Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, 256)

“It is not always easy to know how to apply one’s convictions to particular issues.  But we are never excused from doing so.  For conscience remains the litmus test of all our behavior.  All of us live in the human city, but we are always mindful of our primary citizenship in the city of God,” (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 671)

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