The Devil's Peak in the dusk, 2014, looking south from the Hawker Road.

One Man's Web

One of the readers of my Sunday sermon gifted me with another of his occasional, and always perceptive, comments.

As you've defined it, 'Caesarism' infects every part of society, and me as well…. So we have to figure out how we deal with these systems and institutions around us … How do we give them what is theirs— [he's talking about giving Caesar that which is Caesar's] —   including advice and opposition, even as we keep them in being …  And how do we repent of our own lumping folk together and wishing them ill (which I do!)? (Bill Schlesinger)

We could rephrase Bill's question in the words of this week's lectionary, "But how do we love our neighbour as our self?"  Read on >>>>

What's happening in this confrontation in the temple?  Well…

if Jesus says it is wrong to pay taxes to Caesar, he can be charged with inciting insurrection— the Pharisees even brought some government stooges along just in case he did! (That's the Herodians.)

But of course if Jesus says you should pay taxes to Caesar… then all the religious folks will be upset because… well, that means he's saying that God is not God, but that Caesar is more important. And then the Pharisees can say (only not when the Herodians are around) that you should only give money to God so, clearly then, you shouldn't listen to this Jesus, because he thinks you should pay taxes to Caesar.

It's a very clever setup. But Jesus outsmarts them. He says, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's." So the Herodians can't complain. But then he says, "And give to God what is God's." So, neither can the Pharisees complain, because that's actually what they think, and what they want him to say.

But…  …   have you ever been somewhere when someone tells a joke and then, after a second or two there's a single laugh as it dawns on somebody what the person really said… and then, a couple more laughs, and then… slowly, as people cotton on, everyone starts laughing?

Well, something like that is happening here. Slowly, everyone starts to smile as they get the joke. Everything belongs to God so… what is there to give to Caesar?

And by that time, even if the government agents want to find fault with Jesus, it's too late. The crowd is on Jesus' side.... Read on >>>


A little bit of climbing to sharpen up! Read on >>>>

How can I give Caesar what is Caesar's when everything is God’s?

The conversations which began in the Temple in Chapter 21 continue. Jesus still has the numbers, so the Pharisees are still afraid of the crowd and cannot move against him. They can only seek to sway opinion; that is, to entrap him.  (Matthew 21:26, 22:15) On this occasion, even though his clever answer is clearly against Caesar, Jesus "dodges among the powers," (Loader) and they cannot move against him because their own hypocrisy is exposed. They are amazed not so much at the content of the answer, but at the way he has still kept opinion on his side, and that he still has the numbers.

 So if we think the Pharisees are defeated by his argument, we have trivialised the incident into some kind of verbal one-upmanship, and are blind to the fact that they got exactly what they wanted: he told them he was against Caesar. But he also exposed their hypocrisy for bringing idolatrous coinage into the temple, and for implying, in the temple, that Caesar might have a claim to authority.

… in the ancient world there was no concept of a separation of civic and religious life. There was no way to even express that in language. (Rick Morely)... Read on >>>>

There's a member of my bible study who will be disgusted by this reading. I can hear her now: "How can this be God? This is a tyrant. He is merciless. He is no different to any other king." And I join her in this protest.

Indeed, this king is a man bound up in human categories of honour, and shame, and violence. If this is God, then this God should be resisted. If this is God, then God is simply to swap a Herod for a Stalin. The gospel has done its work on us if we are revolted by this king. Perhaps that is enough.

So why do we make this king out to be like God? Perhaps it is because the son of a king is killed, and we are reading back from the crucifixion, imaging that God is vengeful and filled with rage like us, when things don't go his way. We like to think of God as a king— after all, he speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Actually, this is the only interpretation of this parable that I met for most of my life. Leaving it means to find a whole new way of seeing things.

If Jesus thought God was like this, I wonder if Jesus is worth following. For this Jesus is in such contrast to the one who teaches and acts out love that he is unbelievable! How could one so loving believe such violence was defensible? If Jesus was thinking like this I wonder if he is simply one more tyrant with an iron fist who wears the velvet glove when it suits him, and claims a divine justification for his actions.

Could it be possible that Matthew has a problem with violence, that Matthew did not "get it?" After all, the violence is absent in Luke's telling of this parable. (Luke 14:15-24) Was Matthew still growing in his understanding of Jesus? This is the only way to rescue the parable as something in which the king is some kind of representation of God and in which there is yet some good news.... There might be a simpler way in all this ... And that is simply to abandon the idea that the parable is allegorical; that is, God is not being compared in any way to the king in the story, but is being contrasted... Read on >>>>

clarefarrellflatroadIt's only 321 km to ride to the world's end— and back!

World's End is out east of the northern Mt Lofty Ranges. There's an old Wesleyan Methodist Church, and not much else, but where else can you ride the World's End Highway! Read on >>>>



My colleague Carolyn has written a sermon for today, which I've exchanged with her. She's written the first part, and I've written the last part. So this is a bit of a "choose your own ending" sermon!  Which is rather like the gift of life-- what will you choose as your ending?  Carolyn says:

         As someone who just preached last Sunday about God taking our transgressions, our sins, and casting them into the deepest part of the ocean, I’m struggling with what God will do, will say to the man who, later that evening, fired hundreds of rounds into a crowd at a concert in Las Vegas, killing some 59 people and wounding nearly 600 more.

         Corrie ten Boom forgave the guard from her death camp, but the man had repented and asked her forgiveness. What about the shooter? Just before he killed himself, did he regret what he had just done? If so, perhaps, just barely, we might be able to accept that God forgave him.

         But what if he didn’t? And, of course, we will never know.


         So what if he didn’t? Did God … could God … would God, looking down on the devastation, on the bloodied bodies scattered in the crowd, the terrified survivors huddling behind whatever protection they could find, what would God feel? ... Read on >>>

Some excerpts from the text...

A visiting scholar spoke one afternoon during my first months at theological college. I understood little of what he said, but  remember clearly the nit-picking response of some of us whom he had discomforted. With some frustration he pointed out to us that no theology is able to fit all the pieces into the puzzle; there will always be spaces we cannot fill, and there will always be pieces left over. The art of theology lies in which pieces you find it critical to fit in to your picture.

I have pieces over, and I have gaps. Indeed, forty years a Christian, I sometimes feel as if I still have more puzzle pieces in the lid of the box than on the table! ...

The difficult piece of the puzzle we find in our hand is the one where Jesus appears to have the same idea of God's punishment of the wicked as Isaiah had. It is all very well to make some wiggle room by placing the words of judgement on the lips of the Priests and Pharisees; in Mathew it is they who say "He will put those wretches to a miserable death" but in Mark, the same words are on the lips of Jesus. (Mark 12:1-12)

This can plunge us into deep waters as we wonder just what distinguished Jesus from his peers. Did he also think God would punish and destroy?  If not, what do we make of the texts where it appears he says God will punish and destroy? What happened between Jesus and the writing of 1 John? And if even the author of 1 John thought that God would punish and destroy, how could it then be that he says "that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all" and that God is love? (1 John 1:5, 4:8) ...

In the time between Isaiah and 1 John—  indeed, down until our own time— it could seem that nothing has changed: We are a violent species. We solve our disagreements by the imposition of force. Yet everything has changed between Isaiah 5 and 1 John 4, because in 1 John, God is love; God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

Is it the case that Jesus did not understand this and 1 John did, or is it the case that Jesus did understand God without violence, and that we misunderstand his words? ... Read on >>>>

When the chief priests and elders of the people ask their deadly question, Jesus outmanoeuvres them. He agrees to answer their question— he recognises the numbers— if they will answer his question. And then asks a question of great topicality, a question which plays to the crowd’s sense that John spoke truth and that there is something hollow about the teaching of the authorities, something which stinks about their closeness to the Herods. So they cannot refuse to answer, but because either answer that Jesus allows them will undermine their power, they retreat to, "We do not know," and are humiliated.

They have no authority of their own. And, suddenly, they don't have the numbers. They have to weather the storm and wait for another opportunity to take him down. They can only concede that at this moment Jesus holds the power. He has the numbers.  For all their privilege and prestige they are mere humans, just like the rest of us, always at the mercy of the crowd. Like all of us, they live in fear of the crowd.

They see Jesus push home his advantage. He asks another question. The answer is obvious; it has only one possible answer, such a transparently obvious answer that, again, they cannot refuse to answer him. Because he has the numbers— the crowd is on his side, they have to answer.

And they can see only that the trap is sprung. They are the sons who did not obey the father, and therefore the tax collectors and prostitutes enter the kingdom of heaven before them. They experience condemnation, and live in fear of the mob which might at this moment explode. Because they live by the numbers they can see no hint of grace in what Jesus has said to them… although grace is there, writ large.

So where does authority lie. Is it in numbers?... Read on >>>>

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