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Matthew 17:24-27The Temple Tax

Christmas Eve, Monday, December 24, 2018

Today we celebrate the coming of the One who teaches us how to pay the Temple tax, how to live in this world while not being part of it. 

L.L.Effler: Paying the Temple Tax

When we throw ourselves into understanding and living the Gospel we run the risk of becoming fanatic about its meaning and implications.  Ultimately, God speaks to each of us in our hearts to answer questions and to clear up ambiguities.  In due course, God makes the meaning of his Word known . . . and it is for each of us to learn how to best live out this Word.

The story of Jesus paying the temple tax with a coin found in a fish is one that appears simple but is, in fact, complex.  It calls us to examine our relationship with the society’s civil and religious structures.  It asks us to evaluate our own concept of personal freedom.

 “The point [here] is not that Jesus rejects the temple cult.  He rather rejects the idea that theocratic taxation is the appropriate means of maintaining that cult.  But with the miracle – not actually narrated – of the coin in the fish (which sounds like a piece of folklore), Jesus makes arrangements for payment.  He thereby avoids offending the devout people who, in collecting the money, think themselves to be serving God.  Personal freedom must be delimited because it must be frequently exercised, which means it must take into account the effect upon others (cf. 1 Cor. 8:13).  At the same time, by not giving his own money but by giving a lost coin, Jesus does not acknowledge the legitimacy of a mandatory tax”.  (Barton and Muddiman 866)

As a youngster I was fascinated by the idea that my personal liberty ends where others’ liberty begins.  I remember the animated discussions my middle school teachers sparked with their blanket statements; these generalities were blatant syllogisms of reason used poorly and we young people responded enthusiastically.  We honed our systems of well-ordered logic and practiced the art of zeroing in a specious argument with respect and courtesy.

As a young woman the realities of life asked me to draw lines and determine boundaries; and I began to learn how to effectively and politely use the phrase that is not my problem while still taking responsibility for my actions.  It was a time of separation from the old with an exciting entrance into to new.  I tried to fully comprehend my Dad’s warning that it’s not so bad to be ignorant of the facts but it is unforgivable to be stupid!  Dad encouraged us to learn as much as possible in order to keep our risk of being ignorant low; and he was clear that there was no excuse for a lack of common sense.  Stupidity, in his view, was a willful neglecting of the facts that blocked our own liberty or the liberty of others.  Dad worked hard at being open and he encouraged that openness in us.

In today’s Noontime Jesus teaches by his example.  As happens so many times in the Gospel accounts Jesus lays open reality for us to examine.  He gives us an opportunity to educate ourselves.  He encourages us to hone our sense of fair play.  He asks us to think about others while at the same time we refine our sense of fair play and propriety.  Jesus asks us to think for ourselves, to use divine logic and in brief . . . Jesus asks us to grow up.

It is clear from his actions and words that Jesus places prime importance on taking care of others even to the point of sacrifice.  But it is also clear that we are responsible for observing spiritual and actual parameters.  We are not encouraged to enable or pretend but rather, we are asked to serve others before self, act in kindness, hold true to the commandment of love we have been given, and to exercise our own freedom while not trampling of the right of others to likewise be free.

Many of us have difficulty with this lesson and yet once learned it is not forgotten because the sweet joy of personal liberty has a value beyond price.  The boundary between self and others is clearly delineated by courtesy and kindness.  The rule of generosity and compassion pertains to each and to all of us.  The temple tax is to be paid out of respect for others . . . but the legitimacy of our own relationship with God is never to be forfeited.


A re-post from November 21, 2011.

Image from: http://www.revelationart.org/Gallery1.html

Barton, John, and John Muddiman. THE OXFORD BIBLE COMMENTARY. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001.866. Print.

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Order: The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments

The Tenth Day of Christmas, January 3, 2018

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gives to me ten lords a-leaping.

Many of us are familiar with The Ten Commandments that Yahweh gives to Moses, but how often do we pause to think of the fact the God, through Moses, not only gives us a simple set of rules to follow, but that he explains the effect these rules will have on our lives. God sees our authenticity by the way we live, and by the way we do or do not say, “Yes,” in response to God’s call. Today the old Christmas carol poses these questions to us: do we see the Gospel stories as a fulfillment of God’s hope in the covenant God establishes with us in the promise of the Ten Commandments?

This part of the Exodus story is bracketed by two convergent episodes: the provision of quail, manna and water by God to the Israelites, and the planning and building of a desert temple-tent for Yahweh by the Israelites. We see actions by both God and the Chosen People that speak of their desire to live in a covenant relationship. And the actual agreement, along with its explanations and implications, lies between these two actions in chapters 20 to 24.

The Holy Spirit

God takes the Israelites out of bondage – just as Jesus later does for all when he comes to live among us and to institute the Kingdom (in Luke 4:14-30). With the giving of the commandments, God foresees the struggle of the people in the desert. God’s preservation and protection of these people bring to God not only fame, glory and praise, but also an arrogant, contemptuous rejection by us. So too does Jesus arrive among God’s people to fulfill the Mosaic Law, to provide and protect us, and then to suffer at our hands; yet ultimately, God the Father and God the Son both offer their compassion and mercy to us when we are wayward. All that is required of us is that we repent of our past transgressions and then respond to the call. Just as God sent an angel to guard the Israelites and bring them to the place God had in mind for them (23: 20-33), so too does Jesus send the Holy Spirit to dwell with us after Jesus’ resurrection – to guide and protect, and to lead us to the holy place he has prepared for us. Of course, later in Chapter 32 of Exodus, the people tire of waiting for Moses to descend Mt. Sinai, so they create and worship the Golden Calf. Moses returns, breaks the tablets and loses his patience. The people repent, agree to do as Yahweh asks and Yahweh restores the tablets. A familiar story that we repeat today – we only need to read and compare history and current events. And it is no wonder that we stray – no wonder that the Israelites strayed. When we look at chapters 20 to 24 of Exodus, we see the social implications of the Mosaic Law. We might pay special attention to some of the verses that hold ideas difficult to take, verses that call for us to respect ourselves and one another: 22:15, 23:1, 22: 1-3, 22: 20, 21:35-36.

So on this day when we continue our celebration of God’s truest gift of love, we take a few moments to recollect our experiences in covenant relationships with others. We might mediate for a bit on how we might remain faithful to the one central covenant in our lives. And we might decide how best to renew that covenant each day with our Creator.

Adapted from a reflection on The Ten Commandments written February 14, 2007.

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John 6:1-15: Some Left Over – Part VIIfive-loaves-of-bread-and-two-fish

Saturday, August 8, 2015

John’s recounting of the multiplication story brings us even more insight and perhaps answers to questions raised over the last several days. Is this a miracle of greed becoming generosity or does Jesus actually multiply bread and fish? Why does God bring together so many in need? Why does Jesus ask the apostles to provide food when he knows they do not have the funds to do so? How is it that the Spirit heals so generously and so completely?

A large crowd followed Jesus and his disciples because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.

God’s response to our many needs to walk among us as one of us. Let us pray that we leave our hearts and minds open to this presence.

“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Jesus said this to test Philip, because he himself knew what he was going to do.

Jesus’ instruction of those closest to him is constant and loving. Let us pray that we treat others with this same respect and dignity.

When they had their fill, Jesus said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted”.

The Spirit’s power to heal cannot be overestimated. Let us pray that we have the foresight to honor the Spirit as we ought.

So they collected the fragments, and filled twelve baskets from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world”.

And so we pray as we explore God’s word.

Tintoretto: The Miracles of the Loaves and Fishes

Tintoretto: The Miracles of the Loaves and Fishes

When we encounter God’s generosity, we pray for humility so that we might give thanks for this enormous gift.

When we come upon Jesus’ warmth and presence, we pray for clarity so that we might follow wherever the path of discipleship leads us.

When we receive the Spirit’s healing, we pray for confidence so that we might join him in his loving response to pain and need.

We pray as we reflect on this well-known story of God’s presence in our lives. And we do this in Jesus’ name, in union with the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tomorrow, bread of life. 

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