By Barbara Klugh
Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22 Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, Moses again boldly intercedes with God on behalf of the Israelites, Paul writes a warm and loving letter to the Thessalonians, and Jesus outsmarts the Pharisees and Herodians.
Exodus: In last week’s reading, Moses persuaded God not to destroy his people after the Israelites worshipped a golden calf and broke the covenant. After the golden calf incident, the Lord punished the people by sending a plague. God then told Moses to leave Sinai with the people and go to the Promised Land. However, God no longer intends to accompany the people to the Promised Land—he is planning to send an angel instead.
In this week’s final reading from the Book of Exodus, Moses again intercedes with God on behalf of the people. Moses isn’t satisfied that God won’t accompany his people. He reminds God of the Covenant—Israel would be God’s special people and God would always be with them: “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.” God again is persuaded and agrees to continue on the journey with Israel. Then Moses goes even further and says, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And, in the next chapter, Moses’ request is granted—he is allowed to see God’s glory while standing in the cleft of a rock.
One thing we learn from Moses that it’s okay to be bold, even audacious, before God, especially when we remind him of his promises.
Psalm: Our psalm this week is the last in a series of enthronement psalms. The psalmist calls on all the people to praise God for his holiness, “The Lord is King; let the people tremble.” Our great and awesome God is a lover of justice, who answers those who call on him, who punishes when necessary, and who forgives. Here is Psalm 99 chanted by the Chapel Choir of Boys and Men Ensemble, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Oakland, California.
I Thessalonians: First Thessalonians is considered to be Paul’s earliest letter, usually dated c. 50 AD. Indeed, it is considered to be the oldest preserved Christian writing. Paul, along with Silvanus and Timothy, founded the church during his second missionary journey. Paul wrote the letter to instruct and encourage the young Christians to grow in faith and love, in anticipation of the return of Christ.
In this week’s reading, Paul begins with the typical greeting of letters of the time: He names himself and co-workers Silvanus and Timothy, and addresses, “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.”
Paul give thanks to God for the Thessalonians faith, love, and “and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” They were chosen by God and have responded to Paul’s gospel message through the power of the Holy Spirit. In spite of persecution, their conversion to faith and service to “a living and true God” has become an example to other believers. And they “wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead– Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.”
Matthew: This week’s reading continues Jesus’ debate with the Jewish officials in the Temple. The Pharisees and the Herodians (people who supported Herod and his successors) with false respect, ask Jesus a seemingly straightforward question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” They are talking about the annual tax of a denarius that was supposed to be paid as tribute to Rome. It’s a clever and tricky question. If Jesus says yes, it would seem that Jesus is siding with Rome. If he says no, he will risk arrest for inciting rebellion against Rome.
But Jesus sees right through them. Jesus said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Since the denarius already has the emperor’s face on it, give it back to him!)
In Understanding the Sunday Scriptures, H. King Oehmig observes, “But the full genius of Jesus’ answer is revealed in the rest of the sentence. ‘…and to God the things that are God’s.’ Jesus’ audience would know well the biblical teaching that God had created humanity in the Divine image. Each listener was thus stamped with the image of God—a living visual reminder that God had a claim on every aspect of life. To give back to God what, by right of creation itself belongs to God, means to return all that we are and all that we have. No one can argue with the point Jesus has made.”