I often hear the words, “should” and “have to” and usually not said with much enthusiasm. When possible and with some tact and politeness, I question the speakers about whether or not they can replace those words with “want to” or “desire to” and with spirit. Yes, there are things we have to do, but even these can be experienced a bit free from the bonds of drudgery.
“/should” usually means duty rather than desire. Somebody, whether presently or from the distant past, is making me do this job, or call that person. “Shielding” can be converted into “wanting”, but it takes reflection and a conscious modification of our vocabulary.
This week as we pray with our daily actions, we might swallow our
own “shouldy” words and just see if there is more spirit
in our responses to life’s invitations when we sense that
we just might want to do even the things we must. Attending social
gatherings, business meetings, family parties and dinners all afford
the opportunities to move from “ought” to some inner
movement to more gracefully desire the chance to really “want
to”. I think you should really do this, this week.
King Cyrus, (585-529 B.C.) created a larger empire than the Romans and was much more benevolent than any other known conqueror. He subdued many nations from the farthest east and then west including the kingdom of Babylon and Egypt. In 539 he freed forty thousand Israelites from their captivity in Babylon and sent them back to their home and holy land. Upon all conquests he established order according to that nation’s laws and customs and became known as “The Anointed of the Lord” by the grateful and freed people of Israel.
It is this historical hero about whom Isaiah writes. We read also about this unusual personage at the beginning of chapter 41 in this same prophetic book. What we hear in today’s First Reading is a direct address through the prophet from God to this Cyrus whom the Lord says did not even know as the One God. All that Cyrus did in conquering vast lands and peoples, God says that God was holding Cyrus’ right hand and guiding his actions. The prophet sings out the words of God’s boast that for the sake of Judea, Cyrus was called as a proof that God is One and there is no other.
Cyrus was an instrument of God’s goodness to Israel and all other nations so that through him, all would know the power and kindness of the only God. In a nation’s being conquered one might expect punishing harshness, but Cyrus becomes a hero to the point of becoming an image of the One to Come, the Anointed, Messiah, in Greek Christos. In this text, the prophet celebrates with the redeemed or freed Israelites that Cyrus was called to free the people and reestablish them in their once-abandoned land. What really underlines this text is that God alone did the calling of Cyrus, assisted him to free Israel from the very captivity to which this same One God had sent them. God, the One and Only has employed Cyrus, even though Cyrus did not know it. Israel is now to know it very clearly.
In the past two weeks of Sunday parables we have heard Jesus confronting the Pharisees about their conduct toward the people of Israel and how in fact they have not been faithful to their callings. In today’s Gospel we hear their planning a response to trap Jesus and shame him into silence if not death. They send disciples to schmooze Jesus with a little warm lather of praise. Then they stick the big question to Him. Remember, they would love to have the Roman authorities find out that Jesus has spoken against the occupying power of Rome.
The big question sounds like something from a TV presidential debate. Is it lawful to pay the taxes collected by Rome? They hope He will say “Yes” and so prove Jesus to be on the side of the Romans. They also hope He will say “No” and so prove Him to be in opposition to Rome and so they can report Him and hopefully they will get rid of Him once and for all.
We all know the famous response that confounds their plotting. The answer is directly from Matthew’s stance that there are two kinds of kingdoms. Roman forces strangle compliance from their dominated countries and call that a kingdom, because Caesar is presently king. Jesus has been offering, inviting, teaching about a kingdom not of this world, but in it. Two kingdoms and two concepts of life form the framework of His response.
As long as we are in the world we live in the real tension between what and who lords it over us. It is not about whether we should pay taxes, but whether we live as if this is the only life. Not taxes, but to whom do we give thanks for life, that is the basis of Jesus’ response. Repay to Caesar and his kingdom what of life he offers. Repay to God what you have received from God. It is not so important what you receive from Caesar, but what you gratefully accept as coming from God through the gifts of creation, including other people. It then is more important to pay attention to what life is and from whence it comes than to pay taxes. We pay taxes to our governments and then are urged to pay attention to what and for what are they, in turn, paying attention to.
“The Son of Man came to give His life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10, 45
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