MySpiritualAdvisor.com’s Mark Kurowski reflects on agendas. What is the agenda of the person in front of us, our agenda and what do they have to do with Caesar’s face? Listen to this podcast of his reflection on the readings for 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time or the 19th Sun. after Pentecost to find out. Please read Matthew 22:15-22. For Audio, “read more” below. #GreatChristianPreaching #Prayer #Sermons #Homilyhelper #Pharisees #SovietUnion
For MySpiritualAdvisor.com, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 10/19/2014 The 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time or the 19th Sunday after Pentecost.
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 22:15-22.
Politics makes strange bedfellows. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
When I was finishing up my Bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a concentration in the politics of the Soviet Union, a funny thing happened: the Soviet Union fell apart. On the day after Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the former Soviet Union left office, I had an upper level Soviet Politics class that was supposed to meet.
It was no mistake that the next day our professor entered the room looking like he hadn’t slept all night. Our books were useless. They had become obsolete in one 24 hour period. I hate to tell you that this thing called “the internet” was still in its infancy and “Google” had not yet been heard from. Yet, in his brilliance, the professor gave us a new text book, it was the New York Times, which was covering the unfolding events better than anyone else. Every day, there were pages and pages of information about the uncertainty of Europe. There were many countries that as satellites of the former Soviet Union which no longer had leadership. If they did have leadership, it was no longer able to take orders from Moscow.
Our brilliant professor came up with an assignment. The entire course would be devoted to using our political science skills and writing one paper for the end of the course that would explain what would happen either a) to Russia itself, or b) to the satellite states of the former Soviet Union. Countries like Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were fairly independent. Countries like Ukraine, Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and the other central Asian former Soviet Satellite states were cobbled together with tribes that would now be free from Communist rule. A country like Yugoslavia did not exist before the Soviets cobbled together entire countries into one larger country: Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina had long been enemies.
There is an old proverb that we often quote: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Another way of realizing that is that a common enemy makes dangerous partners. My thesis for my paper was that without a common enemy in the communist leaders from Russia, the people in all of these countries would suddenly have leaders rise up who would renew old hatreds, old battles for power and prestige. It wasn’t long after this that we suddenly heard about the civil war in Sarajevo, in the former Yugoslavia, where there was no longer any former Soviet Union Russian supported communist to hate.
In today’s Gospel lesson, we find Jesus being confronted by Pharisees, who hated the Roman tax because it had the emperor’s head on it with the inscription, “Tiberias Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest”. Pharisees were very holy lay people who had an on again, off again, self-preservation, self-promotion relationship with Roman authority. At the time of Jesus, they were fuming about the take over of the Temple authority by Rome. This coin, about which they were going to ask Jesus, would later become a rallying cry against Rome in the events of War that would lead to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.
The Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus because before his arrival, the people were their power base. They were considered respected because they had popular support amongst a large, but declining, populace.
The Herodians were Jews who supported the Roman rulers. They felt the best way to gain power was to support the Herodian dynasty and eventually rise to power and reinstitute Judaism as the official law of the state. This group, the practical faction, had no problem with paying taxes to Caesar. They hated Jesus because he was a threat to Rome in his popularity. The Pharisees hated them for their support of Rome.
So, as we just gleefully skip through our Bibles reading, “The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians…” We ought to stop and say, “Whoa! Wait a minute. Somethin’ shady is going down here.” This is not about finding truth. This is about exerting power. It is about using what people hold dear as truth as a wedge to get someone else killed.
This happens all the time in our lives. In our corporations, our family relationships, we all have people who come to us to see if they can get us on their side or eliminate our opposition. In corporations, cabals are created to eliminate people who are doing good. In families, we “share secrets and ask seemingly innocent questions” to find out who we can rally against where the next family gathering is going to be at Christmas, no less. Today, Jesus is going to show us a way to handle these kinds of things.
When they come to Jesus and ask him if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus has both sides represented in the debate presenting themselves before him. He can see from just the make-up of the delegation that there is something wrong here. We, too, should see through this kind of stuff. We should think to ourselves when people come to us for their support, our advice, what is the full context of the situation. “Why would two enemies join forces to come to me?” we should ask ourselves.
The key to this passage is not so much what Jesus says, as usual, as what he does. If you notice, Jesus doesn’t have one of the coins that is in dispute. In fact, he asks the very people who object to the coin to bring him one, and they have many. The Pharisees, in fact, kept the coins locked away in, well, in the Temple.
So, let me get this straight, the coin of my enemy, which I feel is unholy, idolatrous and wrong, I keep in the holiest place of my existence. It is a tacit acceptance by the Pharisees that they use the very coin about which they object. They have tacitly accepted the economic system, whether it was right or not. The Pharisees have long agreed with the Herodians, whether they saw it or not.
Yet, Jesus points out to us what Paul would point out later about meat offered to idols: it doesn’t matter if the Emperor declares himself god, because he isn’t. We know that. We have a truth that surpasses all understanding. Matthew is using this story of Jesus and governmental authority to say that government itself is not evil. In fact, governments whose economic systems and philosophies which disagree with us, can exist alongside Christianity. We do want and should not want power. What we want is holiness. What we want is goodness, kindness, gentleness, self-control, visiting the sick, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison and overall loving one another.
There are times when we ought to protest the government. There are times when we should support the government. Those times are determined by the wisdom with which we approach all of life. We must have an agenda, but it must not be the agenda of those who wish to gain power and eventually power over us. Our agenda is Jesus and his love for humanity. That should be what drives us. The Pharisees, the Boznians, Serbians, Soviets, and others in our present day, have agendas to use us. We have to resist that being used.
Has anyone ever asked you, what is the Christian agenda? They should. They should ask you and you should have an answer. It is to love God, love neighbor and walk humbly with our God. We will not be used, nor should we. We follow Christ and he says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Amen? Amen.
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