29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this
discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that
1st Reading - Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Cyrus was the founder of the Persian empire and as King of Persia he
led the overthrow of the occupation by the Babylonians of Syria and
Palestine in 539 B.C. The name Cyrus means shepherd, in Hebrew the name
is koresh (from which David Koresh of Branch Davidian fame coined his
Cyrus is mentioned by name in our reading today even though Isaiah
wrote at least 162 years earlier. Even if one accepts the theory of
multiple authors for the book of Isaiah, today’s reading would
have been written some twenty years prior to the Persian victory.
Cyrus was known as a liberator who had a policy of restoring the images
of captured gods to their original temples, which he often rebuilt. It
is said that Cyrus was so impressed at seeing his name in the Jewish
Holy Scriptures that he released the people in 538 B.C. to return to
Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. Since the Jews had no divine image to
place in their temple, he returned the sacred vessels of the temple
which was looted by Nebuchadnezzar.
45:1 Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus,
Cyrus is the chosen and anointed one to bring about the restoration of God’s people.
whose right hand I grasp,
At their coronation, Babylonian kings grasped the hand of the patron
god, Bel-Marduk. Here, Yahweh grasps the hand of Cyrus as the
legitimate king to preside over the restoration of Israel.
Subduing nations before him, and making kings run in his service,
Opening doors before him and leaving the gates unbarred:4 For the sake
of Jacob, my servant, of Israel my chosen one,
God has made a promise to Jacob on behalf of Israel (see Genesis 28:13-15).
I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me
not. 5 I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me.
It is I who arm you, though you know me not, 6 so that toward the
rising and the setting of the sun men may know that there is none
besides me. I am the LORD, there is no other.
God is directing Cyrus’ steps. He is making sure that the world
history converges on His designs for a tiny captured group of people,
Israel. He hasn’t violated Cyrus’ free will, but He has
guided Cyrus’ actions.
2nd Reading - 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
Today we start a five-week study of Saint Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.
Accompanied by Silas, Saint Paul arrived at Thessalonika in the course
of his second missionary journey (A.D. 49-52) after leaving Philippi
around the summer of the year 50. The city, now known as Salonika, is
situated on the Aegean Sea and was a flourishing center of trade in
Saint Paul’s time. Founded in 315 B.C. by Cassander, Thessalonika
was named after his wife who was a sister of Alexander the Great. It
came under Roman control in 186 B.C. As far as religion was concerned,
it was a typical pagan city. Archaeology has unearthed the remains of
many statues of gods and priestesses. Inscriptions discovered indicate
that they were very ignorant of religious truth and had no clear notion
of the survival of the soul after death.
There were quite a number of Jews living in Thessalonika in St.
Paul’s time. In keeping with his custom, St. Paul went first to
the synagogue to proclaim the Good News: Jesus was the Messiah; the Old
Testament prophesies had come true in Him, He had redeemed mankind by
His passion, death and resurrection. As a result of his teaching many
Jews and Gentiles came to believe, including “not a few of the
leading women” (Acts 17:4). His success earned him the envy of
certain Jews who organized demonstrations and attacked the house where
he was staying. This led to St. Paul and his companions leaving
Thessalonika before the instruction of the converts was complete. These
converts also encountered persecution by the Jews.
Because of this, St. Paul sent Timothy to confirm the converts. Upon
his return to St. Paul, Timothy reported that the Thessalonians were
persevering in faith and charity despite still being harassed. Timothy
also reported that certain questions were troubling the Thessalonians
– things to do with life after death, and the second coming (or
parousia). These questions prompted St. Paul to write this first
letter. It reassures the Thessalonians about the fate of those who had
already died in the Lord.
Today we hear the opening greeting of this letter.
1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in
God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: grace to you and peace.
The beginning of this letter is in typical fashion of a Hellenistic
letter: it mentions the writer(s) , the recipient(s), and a greeting.
“Sylvanus” is believed to be the Silas of Acts 15 through
17, the one who accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey after
Paul’s quarrel with Barnabas and John Mark on the first journey.
The letter is addressed to a group, not an individual, a gathering of
2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers,
As is typical of Paul’s letters, there is a prayer of thanksgiving.
unceasingly 3 calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The thanksgiving is occasioned by the faith, hope and charity of the
Thessalonians in their service of God. This is the earliest mention in
Christian writing of the three theological virtues.
before our God and Father, 4 knowing, brothers loved by God, how you
were chosen. 5 For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but
also in power and in the holy Spirit and (with) much conviction.
Their acceptance of the faith is a consequence of election by God. This
divine election was evident in the manner in which the gospel was
preached and received among them. They have not just heard the message,
but have acted upon it. St. Paul emphasizes that the power of the
gospel lies not in the force of his own rhetoric but in the power of
the Spirit of God.
“For to give thanks to God for them is the act of one testifying
to how they have advanced in the faith. Not only are the Thessalonians
praised by Paul, but Paul thanks God for them, as though God Himself
had accomplished everything. Paul also teaches them to be moderate in
their self-estimation, all but saying that all their growth is from the
power of God.” [Saint John Chrysostom (between A.D. 398-404),
Homilies on the First Epistle to the Thessalonians 1]
Gospel - Matthew 22:15-21
Recall that Jesus is in Jerusalem for His passion, death, and
resurrection. It is the Wednesday of the first Holy Week and, as we
heard last week, Jesus has been showing the chief priests and elders
how God has been extending invitations to His people but they have been
ignoring Him. Jesus’ enemies are now convinced that they will
have to arrest Him.
15 Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech.
Today, entrapment is a legal defense to escape punishment.
16 They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians,
Supporters of the Herodian dynasty which was represented at that time
by Herod Antiapas, tetrarch of Galilee. The Herodian fortunes were
founded on unswerving loyalty to Rome; Herod the Great had proved this
by magnificent political dexterity during the civil wars that followed
the assassination of Julius Caesar. The Herodians and the Pharisees
make an interesting combination – united only by the cause of
bringing down Jesus.
saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that
you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not
concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a
You are faithful to your word and impartial. This expresses the basic
aspect of the biblical idea of justice: an impartiality that refuses to
take a bribe and tilts in favor of the poorer litigant. The compliment
conceals their deception.
17 Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
The position of the Herodians on this matter was quite clear. The party
of the Zealots refused to admit the subjection of the people of God to
a foreign power; the theoretical position of the Pharisees was
identical with the Zealots, but they did not believe in the use of
force to achieve independence. Either of the two proposed answers is
going of offend one of the groups. The flattering words in which Jesus
is addressed suggest that He was expected to take the Zealot position,
which would subject Him to arrest.
18 Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?
Jesus recognizes that both groups are trying to get Him to endorse a position which will offend one of them.
19 Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin.
A denarius. The right to mint coinage is an act of sovereignty, and was
jealously guarded by the Roman government. Satellite kings and free
cities were permitted to issue coins, but it was clearly understood
that this was done with Roman authorization. Unauthorized minting of
coins was an act of rebellion.
20 He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” 21 They replied,
The inscription read “Tiberius Caesar Son Of The Divine Augustus,
Great High Priest.” Since his image and inscription are on it,
the coin must belong to Caesar.
At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
Jesus’ answer effectively evades the question rather than solves
it. He does not appeal to the right but simply to the de facto
existence of Caesar’s power, symbolized by Caesar’s
coinage. Whether Caesar has a right to rule is not touched by the
answer. Jesus doesn’t say what belongs to Caesar and what belongs
to God; this determination Jesus is left to the personal decision of
each man, who must solve the opposing claims of God and Caesar.
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:24 is valid here “No man can
serve two masters.”
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, MS http://www.scborromeo.org