Building Up Each Other in Christ, Part VII   Leave a comment

Above:  Caesar’s Coin, by Peter Paul Rubens

Image in the Public Domain


For the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity, Year 1


Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)


Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace,

that they may be cleansed from all their sins,

and serve thee with a quiet mind.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 221


Proverbs 16:1-20

Psalms 126 and 129

Ephesians 5:1-16

Matthew 22:15-22


The Synoptic Gospels tell many of the same stories, but not identically.  That is how oral tradition works; the core remains consistent yet the margins are variable.  Identifying the constant and the variable elements of repeated stories from one Synoptic Gospel to another is easy.  One may, most simply, see them in parallel columns in books of Gospel parallels.  I have two such volumes–Gospel Parallels (Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr.) and Synopsis of the Four Gospels (Kurt Aland).

Matthew 22:15-22, Luke 20:20-26, and Mark 12:13-17 are parallel to each other.  The question was superficially about taxes in general in Luke 20.  In Mark 12 and Matthew 22, however, the tax in question was a census/poll/head tax of one denarius per year.  A denarius, a worker’s wage for one day, at the time bore the image of Emperor Tiberius,

son of the divine Augustus.

A denarius was, therefore, an idol.  Why did Pharisees carry idols around with them?  The tax, which started in 6 C.E., led to the zealot movement.  Jesus avoided alienating zealots on one side and Romans on the other.  Those who sought to entrap Jesus retreated in humiliation (Psalm 129).

We belong to God.  We depend entirely on God.  Most of Ephesians 5:1-16 consists of commentary or advice consistent with the first two sentences of this paragraph:

Live in love as Christ loved you and gave himself up on your behalf, in offering and sacrifice whose fragrance is pleasing to God.

–Ephesians 5:2, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Value wisdom more than gold and silver.  Seek to build up each other, not to entrap and tear down each other.  Forgive one another as God has forgiven one.  Live generously.  All this advice is consistent with Ephesians 5:2.

Living this way may require one to surrender the idol of wanting to be right, of not want wanting to admit error.  A rare saint may not struggle with this temptation.  I am not part of that company.  I report accurately, however, that this struggle has decreased within me during the last few years.  Do not praise me, O reader; God has caused this change.

Anyhow, those who confronted Jesus in the Gospel story for today wanted to be right.  They sought to prove that they were right by placing Jesus in greater peril than he was in already.  He evaded their trap and showed them up, however.  They still refused to admit error.

Psychological defense mechanisms are powerful.  Many people, although confronted with objective evidence of their error or an error, refuse to admit being wrong.  They have leaned on ego instead.  Such defense of ego is destructive, both individually and collectively.  It contributes to the polarization of politics, whereby factions argue about what constitutes objective reality.  This ego defense also prevents individuals from maturing in their thinking and in their spiritual lives.

How much better would society be if more people were trying to build up each other, not beat each other into political, intellectual, and theological submission?





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