Posts Tagged 'Cyrus'

For Oct. 19, 2014: Proper 24, Pentecost 19, Year A

The Reading             Isaiah 45:1-7

Chapters 40 to 55 of the book of Isaiah tell of the time when the people of Israel were already in exile in Babylon but their deliverance was imminent. The instrument of their deliverance, the anointed one whom the LORD calls by name and promises treasures and secret riches, is Cyrus—king of the decidedly pagan Persian empire.

The Response         Psalm 96:1-9

Psalm 96 is an enthronement psalm that dates to roughly the same time as Isaiah 45. The psalmist calls on all peoples to sing to the LORD and declare the LORD’s glory. Verse 8 is familiar as one of the sentences that may be read in an Episcopal church as the Offertory begins.

The Epistle             1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

The first letter to the Thessalonians is probably the first written book of the New Testament. Paul writes to a church he founded in an important Roman city in Macedon, north of Greece, that he has had to leave suddenly. He begins this letter by commending the mostly gentile converts for their joy and perseverance in the faith.

The Gospel           Matthew 22:15-22

Matthew 21:23-22:14 follows Jesus after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem as he tells a series of parables that make the political and religious rulers squirm. To discredit this troublemaker, the Pharisees and the followers of Herod join forces and confront him with a loaded question about paying taxes to Rome.

 

Further thoughts

“Politics makes strange bedfellows”, as writer and humorist Charles Dudley Warner noted in 1871, when private deal-making in smoke-filled back rooms birthed both shady laws and shining ones.

The strange bedfellows in Matthew are the Pharisees, upholders of Jewish racial and religious purity, and the Herodians, who are aligned with Rome via the figurehead Herod Antipas. Each group despises the other, but Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem has both groups worried, so they work together to trap him. If Jesus calls Roman taxation lawful, word can be spread that he’s a traitor to Jewish autonomy and much of the Palm Sunday rabble will turn on him; if he doesn’t, word can be spread that he’s a traitor to Rome and the Palm Sunday rabble will turn on whatever the Roman legions leave of him. Jesus spurns the trap. The government that provides the coinage earns the tax, he indicates, as one of God’s multitude of tools for getting things done.

Isaiah, for his part, hails Cyrus of the Persians as not only God’s instrument but God’s anointed ruler over Israel—though Cyrus is neither Jewish nor of the house of David. And the Cyrus that Isaiah prophesies is pretty nearly the Cyrus of history: an overthrower of kings, to be sure, yet notorious for treating his vanquished opponents’ former subjects with mercy and generosity. Cyrus finds out what the Judeans need to restore Jerusalem; he helps them back on their feet to do God’s good work, and this constitutes real kingship.

And then there is Paul of Tarsus, Pharisee and yet apostle to the gentiles. He commends the Thessalonians not for imitating him as Jews but for imitating him as followers of Christ and doers of God’s good work among their fellow gentiles.

What if doing the will of God means making less of differences and making more of listening and love?

For Nov. 10, 2013: Proper 27, Year C

The Reading            Haggai 1:14-2:9

In 539 BC, the Babylonian empire fell to the Persians. King Cyrus decreed that the exiled Jews should return home; his son and successor Darius sent them with means with which to rebuild. As the first chapter of Haggai tells it, they rebuild their own houses first but life is hard, until the Lord moves them to work on the Temple.

The Response            Psalm 145:1-5, 18-21

“The Lord is near to those who call upon him, to all who call upon him faithfully.”

The Epistle            2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

The church at Thessaloniki in the northern Aegean Sea was under persecution, and its members deeply afraid that somehow they had missed the return of the Christ. This passage reassures them—when that day comes, it will be obvious—while directing them to what matters most now: standing firm in the faith.

The Gospel            Luke 20:27-38

“‘Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’”

 

Further thoughts

Stewardship could be thought of as taking care of the future by taking care in the present. The readings for Proper 27 explore the theme from the perspectives of people whose futures may not look like winning ones.

The Jews in the verses preceding the Old Testament lesson have returned from exile in Babylon and rebuilt their houses—the reference to paneled houses in Haggai 1:3 suggests some high-end edifices—but the second year’s harvest is meager. The remedy comes from God through Haggai: it is time to rebuild God’s house. Once they begin in earnest, Haggai brings them God’s own promise: though the house looks unpromising, it is already God’s dwelling among them. It will be even more splendid than before, for in it God will give shalom; the NRSV translates this word as “prosperity”, but the sense is not merely ‘riches’ but ‘blessing’.

The Christians of Thessaloniki are, if anything, in a worse way, persecuted by the Roman authorities, beset by other afflictions mentioned in the first chapter, and troubled after Paul left their corner of the northern Aegean Sea by someone teaching that Jesus somehow returned without them noticing and, horribly, left them behind. They still may have to choose at any moment to die for Christ, but they also face the same day-to-day dilemma that we do: how to live as Christians day by day by day by… The right course, says this epistle, is good stewardship: persevere in the faith, for Jesus has already seen to their sanctification—and ours.

The Sadducees of the gospel were influential priests who held that the five books of the Torah—the only true word of God—did not provide for an afterlife, and so a man lives on through his sons or at worst through his widow’s children with his brothers. This practice also provides for the widow, even one who flagrantly fails to fulfill her purpose of bearing heirs. Jesus evades the trap by challenging its premise that anyone in heaven can belong to anyone else. Instead, we all belong to God—in the afterlife that the Torah anticipates by declaring that YWHW is (not “was”) the God of all those patriarchs.

The future is in God’s hands, in short—though it is our choice to persist in the faith and to use our gifts gladly as stewards of God’s reign of blessing here on earth.


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