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)
In verse 4 Paul speaks of the Thessalonians as brothers beloved by God. This is a phrase applied by the Jews only to supremely great men like Moses and Solomon, and to the nation of Israel itself. Now the greatest privilege of the greatest men of God’s chosen people has been extended to the humblest of the Gentiles (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 187). How does being loved by God make a difference in your life?
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)
Again we hear the words that Israel is God’s chosen one, but that God wants all people to know God. We are God’s chosen. Henri Nouwen says, “It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: ‘You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody – unless you can demonstrate the opposite.’ These negative voices are so loud and so persistent that it is easy to believe them. That’s the great trap,” (Life of the Beloved, p. 31). What other words do you associate with CHOSEN?
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)
Who are the Herodians? It is much disputed among theologians as to whether they were a religious sect who thought Herod was the Messiah, or perhaps anti-Roman Jews. It is most probable that they were those who favored the house of Herod, supporting Herodian rule and the Roman rule upon which it rested. In other words, they think like Herod (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 357). How did Herod think? Well, he was famously paranoid to the point that he coined the phrase, “Better to be a pig than a son in the house of Herod.” Herod did not eat pork but he did kill three of his children when he suspected them of wanting to usurp his throne,” (Powell’s Introducing the New Testament, p. 27). In other words, he was blinded by power.
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?
“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).
“If the symbols used to express the nature and actions of God do not find confirmation in and through one’s own experiences, then we should not be surprised to find that the reasons for being moral, the principles and values inferred from these symbols, and the actions required by them will have no persuasive power over one’s life,” (Gula’s Reason Informed by Faith, p. 55). Knowing God is a lived experience! We aren’t motivated to do something if we don’t understand why we’re doing it. Let’s look at the life of St. Augustine:
“For there was nothing I could reply when you called me: Rise, thou that sleepest and arise from the dead: and Christ shall enlighten thee; and whereas You showed me by every evidence that Your words were true, there was simply nothing I could answer save only laggard lazy words: ‘Soon,’ ‘Quite soon,’ ‘Give me just a little while.”…”How long, how long shall I go on saying tomorrow and again tomorrow? Why not now, why not have an end to my uncleanness this very hour?”…(and after reading scripture and experiencing conversion)…”You, Lord, alone have made me dwell in hope,” (Confessions, p. 165, 178, 191).
This story can provoke questions in us: Do I get distracted by things in life so as not to follow where God is leading me? Do I (or someone I know) create drama in life rather than live in an honest way? Where do I put my energy? To what extent do I let my conscience help me make my decisions? How do I live a CHOSEN life?