Prayers of Approach
Sing to the Lord, and praise him,
proclaim his glory to all the world,
for the Lord is great and highly to be praised.
Sing to the Lord, sing a new song to the Lord.
Holy Spirit, be among us as we meet to worship,
as we sing and as we read,
as we listen and as we speak,
as we hear and come to know,
as we learn and begin to understand.
Holy Spirit, be among us.
Praise to the Lord, the almighty, the king of creation (R&S 74)
Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian empire that ended the Babylonian captivity, is described as God’s anointed (messiah). He is the only non-Israelite referred to by a title usually reserved for Israel’s kings and high priests. Isaiah explores Israel’s vocation to teach all humanity what it means to serve God and to see ‘the Lord’ as God of the whole world. Jesus invites his people to follow him in being faithful to Israel’s God in a world under the secular rule of the Roman Empire.
Music: O Lord all the world belongs to you (R&S 90)
In today’s readings, there is a focus on certain key players which asks us to consider who these people are. In Isaiah, the chief character is out of the ordinary as he is a Gentile king and is therefore evidently not part of Israel as ‘the people of God’. In Matthew, we meet both Pharisees and Herodians. The former represent the religious establishment. The latter are more problematic, but could be understood to represent the Romanising establishment. Both groups would have had an interest in the payment of taxes, but for very different reasons, and with different outcomes. Into this steps Jesus. The readings pose a question: who is the one whose authority is real – Cyrus, the Pharisees, the Herodians, or Jesus? And is everything and everyone who they appear to be?
Jesus meets the loaded question about taxes in a way which confounds and amazes his questioners. He asks for a coin. In Jesus’ day, just as today, coins carried a lot of information. Take a look at any coin you have. What does it show? On the head’s side, around a picture of the queen, along with her name and the date the coin was issued, there are a series of letters; D.G. – REG – F.D. These stand for Dei Gratia, Regina, Fidei Defensor, and the whole picture declares, ‘Elizabeth II, by the grace of God, Queen, Defender of the Faith.’ On the reverse, depending on what coin you have, there are various symbols which say something about the nation.
The coin which Jesus was given was probably a Roman denarius of the Emperor Tiberius. There would have been a picture of the Emperor with the inscription “Ti[berivs] Caesar Divi Avg[vsti] F[ilivs] Avgvstvs” (“Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus”), claiming that after his death Augustus had become a God and implying that Tiberius would also. The back shows a seated woman, usually identified as Livia, Augustus’ wife and Tiberius’ mother, depicted as Pax, the goddess of peace. Around the edge were the words ‘maxim pontif’, short for Pontifex Maximus meaning ‘greatest priest’, a title later adopted by Christian Popes.
The coin therefore made claims that were unacceptable to the Jewish people as well as being a symbol of an oppressive regime and it must have been embarrassing to the Pharisees that a pagan coin could be found within the Temple precincts where this exchange took place. Only in the outer court, the court of the Gentiles, where the money changers had their stalls, should there have been Roman currency.
The conversation isn’t just about paying taxes however. Although which ever answer Jesus gave, yes or no, would have caused trouble either with the crowds who were looking for a leader to free them from the Roman oppressors or with the Romans themselves, the real question is about authority, who has the right to rule or to make decisions and judgements. Jesus didn’t dodge the question but he gave an answer that was totally unexpected and which amazed his hearers.
Jesus said that there are worldly things and there are Godly things. He said they should give to the emperor – or the Roman empire, if you prefer – the things that rightly belonged to him or it. And he said they should give to God the things that belong to God. Today, we don’t have an oppressive empire ruling over us, but we do still have a state and a queen. What things is it right to give to the state? What things should we be giving to God? This is about our everyday lives – about the choices we make, the priorities we have. As Christians we are often reminded that we are made in the image of God, stamped with God’s image if you like. What does that mean for our everyday lives, the choices we make and the priorities we have?
Music: Judge eternal, throned in splendour (R&S 626)
Loving God we thank you for all those who have gone before us who shared their faith
and played a part in bringing us to know you.
We thank you for those who are part of our community of believers,
those we know well and those we could know better,
those whom we support and those who support us:
We thank you for Christian leaders of all traditions,
for their example, their teaching, their prayerfulness and care.
Loving God, we thank you for all who respond
to your call to work as a result of their faith.
We pray for those who are inspired to work
in countries other than their own,
and we call to mind the agencies they may work for:
Christian Aid, Tear Fund, the Leprosy Mission…
We give thanks for those whose labour
is prompted by love of you and of their neighbours.
We pray for those who work in health care,
those who look after people in residential care,
those who support their families…
We give you thanks for those whose endurance
is inspired by their hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We pray for those who struggle through poverty or injustice,
for those who are persecuted for their faith,
who have been tortured and imprisoned.
Be with them all, strengthen and bless them with your love and care.
The Lord’s Prayer
Music: Thou whose almighty word (R&S 38)
Into a world of confusion and disbelief,
into a world of welcome and rejection,
we take the grace of God that has been among us,
and the peace of God that has been on our hearts.
Rev. Janet Calderley
Prayers © ROOTS for Churches Ltd. Used by permission.