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This Sunday's Programme

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29th Sunday year A

Sunday 22nd October 2023

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Mt 22: 15-22

The Pharisees came together to hatch a plan to catch Jesus out in what he said. They then sent off some of their group, with some Herodians, to bring it about. These came up to Jesus and said:
‘Teacher, we realise that you are a truthful person, and what you teach truly reveals the way of God. You are not influenced by what people think and you aren’t swayed by a person’s status. So, please give us your advice: is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’
But Jesus saw straight through their wicked malice.
‘You, hypocrites! Why are you trying to set me up? Show me the money!
So they pulled out the coin they paid the tax with and he asked them:
Whose head and whose inscription is on that coin?’
‘Caesar’s. they replied.
‘Well, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God,’ he replied.
They were stunned, and slunk away.

 

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Ps 95:1, 3-5, 7-10.

Sing to God a new song!
To the God of all the earth, sing out.
Let all nations recount God’s glory,
all peoples sing of the wonders of God.

God is great, greatly to be praised,
feared over all gods.
They are just forbidden idols,
but God, our God, made all the heavens!

Give to God, families of nations, glory and strength!
Give to God, the glory of the divine Name!
Come bring yourself before God.
Offer yourself!

Worship God in the beauty of holiness.
Let the earth tremble in awe.
Proclaim the reign of God:
The nations are secure
for God judges justly.

 

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Loving God, you desire only good for us yet often we have to contend with malice in our lives, sometimes from others, sometimes at work within us. Send us your healing Spirit that we may counter malice with Jesus’ calming wisdom. We ask this in his name confident that you will hear us.

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

Lots of ink has been used to discuss Jesus’ answer to the question posed to him concerning tax and much of that ink has explored the role of the Christian within the state. But the people that posed the initial question couldn’t really have cared less about the issue. The fact that they could readily pull one of Caesar’s coins out of their pockets shows that they were using this ‘state’ money for more than paying taxes.

They questioners were really out to get Jesus and any question would do. This is the first in a series posed in order to destroy Jesus’ reputation. The following questions concern the resurrection of the dead, the greatest commandment, and the sonship of the Messiah. In every case, Jesus turns the tables on the questioners by taking the question to another level and, in doing so, reveals the malice and hypocrisy of the people asking the questions.

The cumulative effect of these questions is to underline the concerted, calculated plan to destroy Jesus. Human beings can be that nasty… and it is not just the rotters and lowlifes that can work to undermine people and their reputations. The Pharisees were the religious elite, the Herodians the political elite. The next question posed to Jesus in this series (which doesn’t occur in the year A cycle) is done by an alternative religious elite, the Sadducees. These groups, while normally not friends, were more than happy to collude to destroy someone who had done only good, and who came to them offering love and salvation. None of us is immune from envy and malice. How these people acted should give us cause to pause and occasionally ask how we treat the people that we do not particularly get along with.

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

Simplicity and Complexity

A number of years ago the British journal The Economist in one of their celebrated reviews assessed the different voting systems used in countries around the world. It recognised that no system is perfect, nor can possibly be. Comparing strengths and weaknesses, checks and balances, it assessed the Australian Federal system of voting to be the best in the world. Some years later, when there was discussion taking place about ‘reforming’ the Senate, I described The Economist’s assessment with my brother. He said that people wouldn’t listen to it – as it took more than 45 seconds to describe. We have an inbuilt dislike of complexity. It was this inbuilt dislike that the Pharisees used when they attacked Jesus.

The problem with this is: only God is simple, everything else in life is complex. The Pharisees’ question had reduced the issue of paying tax to ‘either/or’. Jesus expanded the issue to recognising the demands of God _and_ Caesar…and then didn’t spell out what they should do! They were to respect the rights of the both parties and then work out how to act appropriately. This is timely advice to us who live within a democracy, even the celebrated Australian democracy. The issues that we have to decide upon are of their very nature complex. What type of tax should we pay? Should we go to war just because our allies do? What are the rights and responsibilities of asylum seekers? Does the desire for royalties from mines and gas works justify the threat to agricultural land? These are complex issues and as Christians we have a moral obligation to keep reminding people that they are. We cannot allow public debate to be a strident ‘either/or’. Following the example of Jesus, we must try to make public conversation courteous and complex.

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

Countering Malice

We all know what it is like to be asked a seemingly innocent question, knowing that the questioner’s intention is actually malicious and rude and that they are only wanting to humiliate us. This is what happened to Jesus but he didn’t allow the malicious Pharisees to determine how the conversation ran. Jesus’ answer to them concerning the tax was good, yes, very good yet I know I couldn’t come up with an answer like that if I worked on it all week. Still I have had to work out how to deal with this type of person. The answer I’m trying to train myself to give is: ‘I’d like some time to think about that.’ In fact that is a good answer to many difficult questions thrown at us unexpectedly. If still pressured to answer, the further reply could be: ‘Well, it isn’t a matter of life or death.’

Why should people who are malicious and rude be allowed to determine how our conversations run? Whether in private or public conversation, in the family or at work, the arrogant and rude can tend to highjack the discourse. As Christians we need to take back the conversation to allow our language to build up people and not destroy them. Consider the current political landscape. I heard someone repeat recently an ugly violent remark, by a ‘shock jock’, concerning a politician and I was able to reply quietly; ‘and how does that further any good discussion.’ The point was taken. Unless our public and indeed personal conversations are to be further eroded, we Christians must make statements that stop the malice and allow our conversation to truly serve the good of the wider community.

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

The Paintings of this Sunday’s Gospel are fairly straightforward illustrations of the story.

– Peter Paul Rubens Render unto Caesar
– James Tissot  The Pharisees and Herodians challenge Jesus
– Gustav Dore Christ and the Tribute Money
– [Gerbrandt van den Eeckhout  Christ and the Tribute Money 

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

In this Sunday’s Gospel, people tried to trap Jesus by giving him an ‘either/or’ option. In his response he showed how it really was a ‘both/and’ situation.

Over this coming week, notice and mull on how many situations in your life are more complex than you would like them to be. As you mull on this, you may feel overwhelmed. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom so that instead of seeing the competing challenges as threatening, you may recognise opportunities for God’s creative grace.

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

Sit quietly in the love of your God. Rest awhile in the simplicity of God’s love.

When you are relaxed, consider the complex situations you face in life: family issues, health challenges, personal issues, difficulties at work…the list could go on

Choose one of these and consider how you react when it flares up. How do you feel, what do you do…or not do? How do you feel being overwhelmed?

Bring your responses before God and ask God to sift through those responses showing you different ways to respond. Let your imagination go free. Let God show you how complexity can be a source of grace.

Rest quietly in the love of your God.