Archive for December, 2017

Matthew 19:16-22

December 21, 2017

Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.

”He said to him, “Which ones?”

 And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?”

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Matthew 19:16-22

Yesterday our Children’s Ministry Coordinator at church reported to me that some of our little ones in Mother’s Day Out have decidedly mixed feelings when it comes to Santa Claus. It seems that they are terrified by him. Kind of like Kramer’s “I’m kinda afraid of clowns!” This is a problem because rumor has it that Santa will be visiting all of the classrooms on Friday. I trust they will handle it with care.

People might actually be more like that with Jesus than they care to admit. Some might find him scary.

We’re just days away from Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Ever since that song was written, pastors have drawn the distinction between the free grace of Jesus and the deed counting of Santa Claus. Children have internalized the lyrics. Parents have used it as the ultimate carrot for good behavior in this crazy time of year. You better watch out!

The young man in today’s text has been blessed to be living an “it is ALWAYS Christmas” kind of life. He has been a good boy his whole life. And he has plenty of possessions. He’s living the dream. But still something is missing.

It is a bit disorienting, isn’t it, when you think you have it all only to discover that you know you are missing something?

He wants one more thing. One more thing that might make his life complete. He wants to know, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

Jesus offers the classic answer to a world that sings “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” every Christmas. Keep the commandments. But then Jesus takes it one step further. What the young man seeks won’t be founding by accumulating more but by surrendering what is most valuable to him. Jesus says he will win by losing.

Some people are afraid of Jesus precisely because of this. He asks them to do what they are not willing to do. To give up what they don’t want to give up. To turn toward the very people they wish to avoid. Some people are also afraid of Santa Claus.

Let it go.

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, we are such a score-keeping kind of people. Winning and losing, getting and keeping, such ideas fill our imaginations and drive our behaviors. We feel such kinship with this young man, both because we want the best in this life and the life to come and because we are burdened with so much. Help us loosen our grip on this life and these things and be far more mindful, and willing to act on behalf of, those who have so little. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Matthew 19:13-15

December 20, 2017

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way. Matthew 19:13-15

I opened the newspaper this morning to read that Archbishop Bernard Francis Law, the former leader of the Boston diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, has died. While he did many noteworthy things in his long service to the church, he will always be remembered for his role in covering up the rampant abuse of children that had occurred, and been covered up, for years. Such abuse was a nightmare for the victims and their parents, and a dark stain on the church that will never be removed. The best we can do is learn from it and be vigilant that it never happens again.

But it will.

Despite the obvious priority and concern that Jesus demonstrated toward children, they will always be vulnerable to the big people in their lives. They will ever remain largely powerless in the grander scheme of things. By definition, they are dependent on others to make decisions and take actions in their best interests.

Two of my grandchildren and my daughter currently live with Kelley and I. They lost everything in the flood this year. Their home remains stripped to the bone, still waiting for the right contractor to start the rebuilding process. They came home last night to see the presents that my daughter had bought and carefully wrapped for them under the tree. They noticed them immediately and we got to hear those first squeals of delight that children bring to Christmas. It is easy for me to imagine Jesus scooping them up into his arms, assuring them that everything will be OK in time.

The strange thing about this text today is the reminder that the disciples “spoke sternly” to the adults who brought their children to Jesus for prayer. Can you picture that scene in your mind? Jesus’ handlers, his closest advisors, didn’t want him to be bothered with children. Why waste his time with children when there were far more pressing concerns…or so they thought. Jesus put children first and so ought we.

Many in our country are celebrating a decision to change our federal tax policies. Those supporting the decision are congratulating themselves for the courage to cut tax rates for corporations and individuals. Others point out that this will lead to greater spending deficits and another massive increase in the federal debt. Why mention it now? Because decisions like this defer the consequences of debt to our grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren. Children who need schools, health care, and public safety now and always.

When Jesus hoisted those children unto his knee with the words “for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” his actions were a visible threat to all of the older people who were the first to say that things “belong” to them. The disciples who thought that Jesus belonged to them. The rich who think that everything they have “belongs” to them. The powerful who think that they can do whatever they can get away with because their power “belongs” to them.

Let the children among us remind us: Nothing belongs to us. We are caretakers of creation. We are stewards of the gifts of God. Always. In all things. “Is this going to be a good thing for children?” remains a central question in that stewardship.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for every opportunity you give to us to take good care of children. To provide what they need, to teach them what they need to know, to channel their energy and curiosity toward good ends. Thank you for loving the adults who brought their children to you by caring for their children in safe and holy ways. Give us that child-like faith that protects us from childish actions and ideas. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 19:1-12

December 19, 2017

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he cured them there.

Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.”

His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” Matthew 19:1-12

Don’t miss the technicality in this text. “Technical” seems such a clean and innocent word. In this case, it is a word that hides the pain of male supremacy and female subjugation. The Pharisees are right. All the ancient law required for the dissolution of a marriage was a man kicking a woman out of his tent. For any reason at all. If he didn’t like her cooking….gone. If he wanted some different wives….gone. If he was tired of feeding her…gone. Just like that. With no recourse for the woman at all. One day she is living under the thumb of her husband and the next she is homeless, hoping a family member might take her in lest she end up begging for food or selling her body.

Read the rule yourself from Deuteronomy 24, “Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house…”

Clearly Jesus sees more to marriage than a man’s pleasure and a woman’s utter vulnerability. Yet the Pharisees express surprise. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that marriage be viewed from the point of view of God, let alone women…or children!

We should also note that Matthew, here copying from Mark 10:2-12, adds a little loophole, “except for unchastity,” which was not part of what Jesus taught there…and still it assumes that only a husband can divorce a wife.

What do we make of this? From the beginning there has been recognition of the social and emotional value of exclusive relationships protected by the legal and communal bonds of marriage. Marriage has taken on many forms but it is at the heart of every culture. That is ancient. What is modern is carrying the concept of justice into both marriage and divorce, including justice for all parties involved – the marriage partners, and their children. Like so many things, it might not be good but it isn’t as bad as it used to be.

This is a painful text. It is always painful. It is particularly painful when this text pops up so close to Christmas. For anyone who has experienced divorce – the leaver, the left, the children whose lives have been so disrupted – life brings many opportunities to relive the pain of the strands of life being slowly cut, fiber by fiber. It happens. It is hard. But life goes on. It can get better.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, divorce is a harsh reality of life. Relationships end. Whatever the reason, whatever the circumstances, divorce brings a big gulp of the brokenness of life. We pray today for those who have experienced divorced, those now caught up in the process, and especially the innocent children who don’t understand. This Christmas season we pray for moments of peace, for hope, help, and healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 18:21-35

December 13, 2017

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.

When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35

”Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” What do we make of these words? No one would think to carry around a special sin counting calculator – “That’s 78, no more forgiveness for you!” Or maybe they would. So Jesus backs up his words with a story.

His story puts flesh on the bones of the widely shared guide to loving our neighbors, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The obvious point of the story is that we, having been fully and mercifully forgiven by God, ought to therefore fully forgive our neighbors. Not to earn God’s favor but as our response to it. As the writer of 1 John would later put it, “We love, because God first loved us.

Forgiveness is God’s answer to sin. From the cross Jesus would later say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Those are haunting words to me. I hear them and it strikes me that, on at least one level, those who crucified Jesus and those who taunted him in his misery, knew exactly what they were doing. They might not have fully known or accepted who he was. They might have misunderstood his mission in life. But this was not the first rodeo for those who drove the nails in. Crucifixion was not an unknown way for people to die. Yet the crowds still gathered, like the picnicking crowds at a lynching.

What if they had known? Would they have still treated Jesus to such a violent death? Maybe not. Maybe they might have known better. Maybe they would have treated Jesus better.

Perhaps this is the key to understanding Jesus’ call to a life of meeting sin with forgiveness. For Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, would have us see him in the face of every person whom Jesus loves and forgives. Matthew will later tell us, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

We come at life from a place of forgiveness as our response to God’s forgiveness of us. And we come at life from a place of forgiveness because we recognize Jesus in the face of our neighbor. Now we know.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we sin against our neighbor through what we do and through what we fail to do. Our sin sometimes drives us to blaming and victimizing others. Sometimes we internalize it in shame and self loathing. Always we stand before a wide open door that promises healing and relief – to forgive as we have been forgiven. To forgive others and to allow the good news of your forgiveness to sink in deeply and heal us from the inside out. May this be healing balm in our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 18:15-20

December 12, 2017

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:15-20

We all remember M. Scott Peck’s famous lines from “The Road Less Traveled”: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

I appreciate those words. They might even be true. But we still need some tools to navigate the difficulty of life. Jesus gives us an important tool today.

It is inevitable that people will get sideways from one another. Different points of view will lead to differences of opinion which will lead to disagreements. Broken people create breaks in relationships. People sin against each other. What then? Jesus gives us a path forward.

First, we are to talk to the person face to face. Alone. It might work. Confession and absolution might result. The relationship might be healed.

If not, we need to reach out for help. Bringing two or three others into the disagreement means there are more ears to hear, more perspectives to ponder. It might feel like ganging up but it doesn’t need to. There is safety in numbers. It might work. Confession and absolution might result. The relationship might be healed.

If not, Jesus says to bring the issue to the wider community. Why? Because there is more at stake than just a problem between two people. Many is the community that has fallen apart due to personal conflicts and divisions within. If a problem is serious enough to separate two people then it is serious enough, if not handled privately, for it to be dealt with publicly. But then comes the really hard part to hear, “if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Now that could mean show them all the more grace, or it could mean, separate them from the community. A nudge becomes a push.

All of this becomes an important tool in our lives for handing conflict. Conflict is inevitable. Life is difficult. How we handle conflict makes all the difference in the world. Jesus is clear that we handle conflict by working through it, not by pretending it away, or running around it, or spreading it by appealing our case to others who weren’t initially involved. Easy to say, hard to do.

Again I’m reminded where Jesus would have us focus our attention. We tend to think (even worry) about our relationship with God. Jesus redirects our attention to our relationships with one another. That God’s will be done on earth. That we forgive our neighbor. In that we will see Jesus in our midst.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, help us in our relationships with others to strive toward humility, honesty, and vulnerability. Keep our minds open and our hearts soft. Teach us anew that relationships are more important than results and that the wider purposes of our life together are worth working through the problems that arise along the way. Remind us again and again that you are always present. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 18:10-14

December 11, 2017

“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” Matthew 18:10-14

Imagine if you were there that day. You see Jesus, a child sitting on his lap, surrounded by his disciples, as he speaks these words. Remember also that the question still hanging in the air is the question that the disciples asked in verse 1, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” How would you feel? What would you think? What would you see in the faces of the disciples? I would feel a bit ashamed.

The disciples don’t see the irony in their initial question. They don’t realize how pathetic and pandering their question is. As important as it seems to us to know who is at the top of the ladder, who wins the championship, who gets the corner office – such thoughts are ridiculous in view of Jesus – who teaches that there aren’t ladders, that playing the right way is more important than winning, and that every corner in creation is equally precious.

Jesus is holding a child. Do the disciples recognize how important that child is, or are they impatient, waiting for Jesus to let the child go off to play so they can get back to their adult, uber important, theologizing and philosophizing?

I don’t spend much time thinking about guardian angels – but this is one of the Bible verses that gives rise to the notion that everyone has an angel on their side, putting in a good word for them with God. Is that a childish notion? A silly idea quickly dismissed by our modern thinking? Or does such an idea change the game for us? What if we really took the idea seriously? How might it affect decisions we make regarding children if we begin with the idea that every child is infinitely valuable, with a direct pipeline to God, even if they don’t help pay the bills and are too young to vote?

We’ve all heard the one about the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to go seek the one who was lost. But have we ever put it in this context? It brings a new meaning to the concept of “no child left behind”, doesn’t it?

Will this be good for children? From families to future generations, from congregational life to public policy, from schools to social conditions, this is a vital question, a matter of faith, that should be moved to a question of highest priority. Do you think Jesus would agree with that?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, like your disciples we can get so caught up in our own lives, in our own sense of what matters, that we forget the implications of our lives on the children entrusted to our care. We forget to ask what is good for children. To their peril and our own. Cement in our minds the image of you holding a child in our midst and let that image influence the choices and decisions we make. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 18:7-9

December 5, 2017

Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!

If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire. Matthew 18:7-9

There is much in this 18th chapter of Matthew about sin. Sin is that which shatters relationships between us and God, us and one another, and us and creation around us. Sin is disobedience and disconnection. It is selfishness and self-centeredness. It is what results when we put ourselves in the center of the universe, thinking everything revolves around us, and that we are the sole arbitrators of our own behaviors.

It is helpful to think of sin both as incurable disease and symptom. Sin as disease is a sign of the brokenness of all creation, the sense of separateness and alienation that plagues us. This deepest sense of sin is original sin, sin which reaches down to our roots. This is what Kierkegaard termed our “sickness unto death.” He argued we experience sin as despair and that it is an unavoidable aspect of human existence. As the Bible says, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” In this we are victims of sin, members of a fallen humanity.

But we are also perpetrators of sin. This is sin as symptom of that deeper reality. We cannot cure the disease but we do have the freedom to limit and battle its symptoms. Despair might drive a hungry person to desire to steal food from a grocery store but they still have the freedom to fight that temptation and seek food elsewhere.

What Jesus calls “stumbling blocks” are quite literally the things in life that trip us up, that knock us off the path of obedience, of doing the next right thing. Jesus isn’t going to let us off the hook. He understands our tendency to justify ourselves, minimize our sin, hide behind “but everyone’s doing it” or “I couldn’t help myself.” And he is rightly concerned that we not intentionally do that to others in order to elevate ourselves.

All of this is quite serious in our day-to-day lives. Certainly Jesus doesn’t literally expect that we will chop off feet or hands or pluck out eyes – but his words amplify the dangers of not paying attention to where we go, what we do, and what we see.

The news today is full of stories of people suffering the consequences of their sin. The words of Luke 8:17 keep coming back to us, “For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.” Lies, deception, sexual harassment, corruption – all are symptoms of the deepest realities of sin. Jesus wants us to realize that this stuff is serious. It poisons the wells of our lives.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, from the cross you spoke the words, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” Such words are vivid reminders of your grace and mercy. They are also signs of how deeply you know us. Sometimes our sins are so deeply imbedded in us that we don’t realize what we are doing. Far more often, we know but we do it anyway. Forgive us for embracing stumbling blocks in our lives. Heal us from the pain over that which we have stumbled. And light the path so we walk with integrity, humility, and care. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 18:1-6

December 4, 2017

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matthew 18:1-6

It is such a human question to ask: Who is the greatest? From sports to politics to business to the arts, there is always an argument to be made about who is GOAT, the greatest of all time. It is also a foolish question. There are so many variables in life that it is impossible to compare one person to another across the decades of change. Yet it fascinates us. Why?

The string of stories that open the Bible culminate in the 11th chapter of Genesis. After the brazen refusal to follow one simple rule, falling prey to the temptation to “be like God”, in the 2nd chapter of Genesis, the story continues with further alienation from God. Finally, in one more attempt to storm the heavens, the infrastructure improvement project of Babel results in the destruction of human community. So much for seeking to be the GOAT.

We want to believe that there is really something like being the “greatest” because it justifies our attempts to create our own reality, to be our own saviors, to create our own ladders to climb and mountains to conquer. We want to believe it really matters to reach the top, to be King of the Hill. Why? Because we still believe Babel was a worthy pursuit.

Enter Jesus who deflates our balloons. He picks up a child and holds her before his arguing disciples. Let this child be your model, your hero, your goal. Notice her humility, her vulnerability. She holds no confidence that she can do life on her own. That she can make up her own rules. That she can lord it over anyone else. She has no desire to be the greatest of all time in anything. Look at her trust. Look at her fears. Let her be your example.

How is this good for children?” Listening Jesus means that this question, so seldom asked until it is too late, is perhaps the best question of all.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, our pride gets in the way. We can’t imagine surrender other than defeat. We can’t imagine victory that requires vulnerability. We are as challenged today by the image of you holding a child before us as your disciples were back then. Teach us the difference between child-like and childish. Teach us anew what is most important in our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Matthew 17:22-27

December 1, 2017

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” And they were greatly distressed.

When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes, he does.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?” When Peter said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.” Matthew 17:22-27

As we reach the end of the 17th chapter we still remember how the chapter began, the mountaintop vision of Jesus standing with Moses and Elijah as the voice of God said to those gathered, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

What does it mean to “listen” to Jesus?

Any of us who have tried to communicate with a child, or a spouse, or a co-worker, knows there is a big difference between “listening” and “listening.” Listening doesn’t mean waiting impatiently for the other person to quit speaking so you can offer a counter-argument. Listening doesn’t merely mean hearing the words a person uses. The old, “in one ear, out the other.” It certainly doesn’t mean hearing their words and then running them through our own filter to twist them into what we believe they really meant by them.

No, listening means hearing what the other is saying. Receiving what they say from a place of trust and good will. Internalizing what they are trying to communicate. And then, again from a place of trust and good will, acting appropriately in response to what we have heard.

If that, in fact, is what it means to truly listen to someone else, let alone Jesus, then it is no wonder that we sometimes throw our hands up in despair and wonder why no one listens to anyone any longer. Especially when what is being communicated is difficult to hear.

As I said yesterday, the mystery of the ministry of Jesus, the good that he did in the lives of people, is not simply that he was misunderstood, it is that he was strongly opposed and actively resisted. For the disciples, listening to Jesus today means taking seriously his words, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” They heard him. No wonder they were greatly distressed.

Do we hear him? Do we realize that following Jesus will take us to a place where we can be strongly opposed and actively resisted? Or do we cling to the idea that following Jesus will lead us to a comfortable and secure life here with the promise of eternal bliss to follow?

Then the story turns toward the payment of the temple tax. Did you see that one coming? We are following Jesus through the gospel of Matthew and it just so happens that today we find ourselves reading about taxation when our elected leaders in Washington are grappling with tax policy. Isn’t that interesting?

The temple tax was expected to be paid by every Jewish male over the age of 20. It wasn’t a huge tax, about two days wages for a laborer (let’s say $160 for someone making $10/hour), and most people paid it. Even Jews who lived far from Israel would send their temple tax back home. The tax itself wasn’t an issue for Jesus. He saw that it was paid. What we need to hear is how Jesus points out how the taxation system was gamed by the “insiders.”

The children of the powerful, the “insiders”, get off scot-free while everyone else pays their taxes. The temple tax (two days wages for the poor) would be chicken feed for the children of the rich. But what if it meant paying two days wages for the rich? An annual income of $1 million would amount to daily wages in a five day work week of about $3,850 or a temple tax of $7,700. Not quite chicken feed anymore. But it doesn’t matter. The children of the kings of the earth don’t have to pay taxes anyway.

Jesus, so as to not give offense, pays his taxes. He leaves it up to us to listen well and notice how sneakily injustice works in the real world. And if these words are well received by the poor, and rejected by the well-to-do, it only proves his point. Welcome to the struggle.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you create us for relationships with you and with one another. You create community. With that community comes sharing the burdens of life. One way that happens is by our pitching in through paying taxes. We pray today for those who make decisions about taxation, that they do their work wisely, justly, with concern for all, even if that leads them to a place of struggle and resistance, knowing that doing what is right for all will often be rejected by those with the most power. In Jesus’ name. Amen.