Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Thus says the Lord to his anointed, Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp, subduing nations before him, and making kings run in his service, opening doors before him and leaving the gates unbarred: For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not. I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the Lord, there is no other.
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father, knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, how you were chosen. For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.
Gospel Cycle Cycle A
The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
Jesus invites us to become more aware of the workings of God in all of our life and the events of our life. We should never narrow our vision simply to that which is seen as holy and of God by our Church, by our society or by our friends. God transcends all. God is present in all. And in this openness, we are still invited to believe that Christ is present in His Church and in the teachings of His Church.
In the first reading today, the Prophet Isaiah speaks of the role of Cyrus as part of God’s plan. Most of the people in the time of Cyrus and Isaiah would not have been thinking that way. For the Chosen People, they were God’s plan and the other peoples were only in the way. For other cultures, there was a completely different understanding of God or of gods. Yet Isaiah is able to see the hand of God in Cyrus and proclaim that Cyrus is an instrument of God.
The challenge for us today is to see everything that happens as part of God’s design. God is God! All things happen according to His design and plan. Even when we rebel directly against Him, He is able creatively to include our rebellion in His plan and leave us with the possibility of a new good. Even the best of theologians of all traditions have not been able to explain completely how our human free will and God’s will intersect and act on each other.
Faith in God and in Jesus Christ will allow us to see the action of the Holy Spirit in all that happens to us, whether it be, from our point of view, good or bad.
The second reading today, from the First Letter to the Thessalonians tells us that our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction. This is a way of saying that it is not just in talking about God that we experience Him. Rather we want to become aware of God’s power. We can do that by listening to His word and seeing that word in action in history and in others in our present age. Becoming convinced of God’s presence and His action in the world is at the heart of our faith, no matter how weak it may be.
The Gospel of Matthew today speaks to us about the relationship of Jesus to secular laws. Clearly those questioning Jesus wanted Him to be against paying the temple tax because it was offensive to the Jewish people. Jesus makes a clear distinction about what pertains to religious belief and what is simply belonging to secular culture. This is always the challenge in every age. It is our challenge also.
The challenge of the readings today is to keep our eyes open to the presence of God, to be aware that we can make secular things into religious idols and that we are called to be free and loving, while we serve God in peace.