Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year Isaiah 45: 1 & 4-6; 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-5; Matthew 22: 15-21
“Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whom he has taken by his right hand to subdue nations before him. It is for the sake of my servant Jacob, of Israel my chosen one, that I have called you by name. Though you do not know me, I arm you, that men may know that, apart from me, all is nothing.”
The words of Prophet Isaiah demonstrate a faith that sustained Israel through the darkest moments of destruction, captivity and exile. In such times our vulnerable humanity is susceptible to a sense of abandonment, a feeling that, in the overwhelming tide of events, we are far removed from God’s loving purpose.
The prophet reached beyond this temptation, and trusted in a God whose love reached beyond Israel’s narrow confines, embracing and guiding all nations. It was in this sense that Isaiah saw Israel’s restoration as something more than a changed balance of power between warring nations. Thus Cyrus, to Israel an outsider and unbeliever, was more than a fortunate victor: he was the Lord’s anointed, the instrument of God’s saving will to Israel, and indeed to all nations.
Let us pray that we also, together with the Prophet Isaiah, might come to acknowledge the light of God’s presence beyond the confines of our narrowed perception.
The encounter of Jesus with the Pharisees, and the vexed question of taxes paid to Caesar, perfectly illustrates the danger of limited perception.
The pharisees failed to understand the blindness of their own malice towards Jesus. Rather than binging an openness to the presence of God in Jesus, their minds were set on rejection.
“The Pharisees went away to work out between them how to trap Jesus in what he said.”
They had hoped that, in his answer, Jesus would be revealed as a traitor to Israel by admitting to paying the tax of their Roman overlords.
Jesus understood the malice that blinded their perception, confounding their evil intentions with his enigmatic response.
“Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”
Jesus had, in effect, refused to be confined within the limits of their prejudice.
Let us pray that we, who face choices every day, may always chose first and foremost what belongs to God, and, in the light of God’s love, never neglect the just demands of others in our lives.