The Pharisees took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.
This story takes place during Holy Week, the days of preparation for the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. Herod was around, as the Gospels tell us he took part in condemning Jesus. Here Herod is in an unlikely alliance with the Pharisees, collaborators lining up with the upholders of the Jewish Law; opposite views of the basis for civil society. Both groups are corrupt, both are tempted to confuse their own interests with those of God’s people, their authority is shaky and in both cases dependent on the Roman Occupation, for or against it, for their prestige. Does either group want a revolution?
Dr Johnson wrote:
The general story of mankind will evince that lawful and settled authority is very seldom resisted when it is well employed…. Men are easily kept obedient to those who have temporal dominion in their hands, till their veneration is dissipated by such wickedness and folly as can neither be defended nor concealed.
The Rambler, No. 50; in “Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765” by James Boswell.
Jesus sketches out the fine line we generally have to follow in respecting lawful authority. It requires grown up thinking, not Punch and Judy politics. But how best to resist indefensible wickedness and folly? It was a question of life and death for tomorrow’s saints, John Fisher and Thomas More.
For deeper and satisfying reflection on this passage, we suggest joining Sister Johanna as she eavesdrops on the discussion that Jesus so elegantly sidesteps, in this post from last May.
Here are Rev Jo Richards and her team, negotiating the latest twists and turns of policy around covid-19.
Good morning to you all, on a warm sunny morning, and I hope this finds you all well, as we are here at the Rectory – an exciting weekend ahead, and just to update you…
Seating arrangements in our church buildings: updated from Church of England, 30th June 2021:
From Step 3 groups of 6, or larger groups where everyone present is from the same two households (or linked support bubbles), can sit together. Everyone else will need to observe appropriate physical distancing at all times. It may be helpful to remind people as they enter, and to supervise this if needed. When entering and leaving church particular care needs to be taken that there is no mingling between groups. This can be particularly hard for people to do when encountering friends and clear paths for entrance and exit need to be considered as well as stewarding where this is considered to be an issue.”
What this means is: Attendees may sit in non-household groups of up to six on a pew together, but they must not mingle with other groups. Mask wearing is mandatory (unless exempt), and there is no congregational singing, track and trace in place, and hand sanitizers.
We are expecting quite a few folk to come to our services on the 4th July and the 11th July, not only is it [new curate] Jenny’s first services with us, but we have couples hearing their Banns of marriage being read (5 couples at St Dunstan’s and 2 at St Mildred’s).
When you arrive, if you would rather sit alone (which is absolutely fine) please do indicate this, otherwise we will ask if you are happy to sit in a group of six on a pew. At St Dunstan’s we have rearranged the ribbons, and closed off every other pew, as that brings us to just under the 2m social distancing between open pews; whereas before it was over 2m social distancing.
We as with everyone else await to hear if there will be any restrictions with the ease of lockdown, and will let you know accordingly.
Welcome party for Rev Jenny (4th and 11th July), following government guidelines: to take place in churchyard only (so if wet it will be cancelled), overall group size max 30 (so split into 2 groups in separate parts of churchyard if necessary). Smaller groups of 6 to be maintained, and sat together with no mingling between the groups. Drinks will be provided and brought to you (or byo); we are not permitted to stand and drink/eat. Individual snacks will be available or bring-your-own. If you do have a collapsible chair and can bring it please do.
As we prepare to welcome Jenny to our Benefice – today’s reading in Morning Prayer spoke to me most profoundly: Romans 16:1-2
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.”
After Pope Francis’s prayer about money, let’s join Sister Johanna as she eavesdrops on a discussion on the subject that Jesus refuses to get drawn into needlessly, though his answer puts the question back in his questioners’ court.
The Pharisees went away to work out between them how to trap Jesus in what he said. They sent their disciples to Jesus, together with some Herodians, to say, ‘Master, we know that you are an honest man and teach the way of God in all honesty, and that you are not afraid of anyone, because human rank means nothing to you. Give us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ (see Mt. 22:15-16).
I read these lines from the Gospel of Matthew and it hits me: this spokesman for the Pharisees is really laying it on thick. This is an episode that occurs near the end of Jesus’ public ministry, when feeling against him among the Jewish leaders has reached the danger-point. Now, in their efforts to bring Jesus down, the Pharisees enlist the aid of their disciples – Pharisees-in-training, probably – to do some dirty work, which strikes me as being particularly cowardly. And also they have the help of the Herodians – because Herodians, as supporters of the Herodian dynasty, were the most suitable people to report Jesus, if he could be tricked into saying something against Rome. In which case Jesus would be arrested and conveniently removed from the scene. End of the Jesus Problem for the Pharisees. In this passage, the Pharisees’ disciples are attempting to present themselves as the loyal supporters of Rome – although in fact, none of the Jews were happy under the Roman occupation. But the facts are being manipulated now in order to stack the situation against Jesus. I re-read this passage from Matthew, and I feel anger on Jesus’ behalf as I consider the viciousness behind the overblown flattery of the words said to him. I see the speaker flicking conspiratorial glances at his peers while they all feign seriousness. Sickening.
I continue to ponder this scene, seeking a real encounter with the person of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit working in the sacred text. I try to imagine how I would react if I had been in Jesus’ place. Even at this remove, the main feeling continues to be anger – building up and up inside me. This, along with fear, would be overwhelming if I were really there; I see myself trying to suppress these emotions. I see myself acting – or trying to act – as though I don’t notice the group’s malice, while inwardly being so preoccupied by it, and the implied insult to my intelligence, and the threat to my very life, that I cannot actually answer their question with any show of competence. I see myself quickly trying to end the encounter and escape. The bottom line is that I would be way out of my depth if I were in Jesus’ place, and in the end, even if I managed somehow to preserve my dignity, I would be unable to come up with a response that addressed this complex situation or that impressed anyone – not even my best friend.
Jesus, however, is master of the whole situation. And his flatterers were right. Jesus is not afraid of them or of anyone. He will take them on, astute in every word and gesture. How does he handle things? First, he addresses their falsity. He exposes it. He wants their duplicity to be out in the open, obvious to all. ‘You hypocrites!’ he says. ‘Why are you putting me to the test?’ No one needs to explain why – and no one does. It’s perfectly obvious that they are hoping to trap Jesus, make him look like an enemy of The Establishment. In exposing this, Jesus he easily wrong-foots his questioners – and wins a small victory here. Now he has the advantage in the ensuing exchange.
Jesus clearly knows their game. Nonetheless Jesus has a ‘game’ of his own. He has come into the world as saviour. He will never turn away if there is even a remote possibility that someone present may be open to his person and message. He has been asked a question: ‘Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ Jesus sees that the question is a set-up. But he also sees something they don’t see – he sees that the question can be turned into one that touches the deepest spiritual level of the human being. There may be someone, perhaps only one person in that little group of Pharisees’ disciples, who is reachable. And so, Jesus gives them all a most beautiful answer to their question.
And here we are going to slow this reflection down. We know this story; we know the answer Jesus is going to give. But this is lectio divina. Lectio is about giving the text space to speak in a new way each time we read it, not pre-empting the Holy Spirit by rushing ahead to the end, then dusting off our mental hands, closing the book and dashing away unchanged. So, we’re going to pause this reflection here for today, and return to it tomorrow, perhaps with an even greater degree of openness to the message that Jesus, through his Spirit working in us, may wish to give.
SPB sent us a link to tis talk given by Fr Mark Scott to the Cistercian Community at New Mellary Abbey, Iowa, USA. This is a short extract from a thought provoking talk; do follow the ink and read it all. It may help understand Romans as well as the virus!
There may be a virus sitting there on the fork or on the elevator button or on the door handle, and if it just stays there it is harmless. It cannot move on its own, it doesn’t reproduce on its own or through mating, it doesn’t do anything. A virus becomes active when it has something like us to enter and attach to … your cell structure has fully to cooperate with the virus so that, in biblical language, the two almost become one, and baby viruses are born. And then the virus goes viral within you and all around the world …
I think of what Saint Paul says about sin “finding an opportunity in the commandment” and so “producing every kind” of sin of the same genus and species. Like a virus, “apart from the Law sin is dead . . . but when the commandment came sin became alive” (Rom 7:8, 9). Where? “In me.”
Today we’d put out the flags, as Caernarfon did to welcome us (and thousands more tourists) a few years ago. 2,000 years ago it was palms and cloaks that were actively waved – not just left out in all weathers – as Jesus came to town. But by the following Friday nobody would have wanted the Romans to see the national flags and emblems on their buildings. Jesus had become dangerous to know.
The Plantagenet Kings whose castle commands this view would have looked askance at the scene, and their spies would have filled the castle governor’s ear with more or less factual accounts of the latest prince to arise to rally the Welsh. Pilate would have heard about Jesus before Palm Sunday but the parade of the King of the Jews did not lead to his immediate arrest. Pilate thought he could contain this uprising before it got very far.
By Friday festival fever was worrying a hypersensitive elite who valued the shaky Pax Romana as it applied in Judea, offering them status and privilege and allowing the Temple worship to continue according to the Law. Verses from the Psalms and the Prophets that challenged the idea of sacrifice were dismissed in their turn by the priests of the Temple.
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
Ps 51: 16-17
Jesus’s heart was broken, his body too, though not his spirit. His death completed his lifelong passion. It is all of a piece, as the Pieta tells us – the baby we saw Mary cuddling at Christmas is the One she cradles briefly before his burial. (Take a look at St Thomas’s Lady altar.) But today, knowing he is riding into difficult times, he is the King the crowd were waiting for.
So let’s put out the flags in our hearts, and wave our palms for our King!
Pope Francis, in this final extract from his 2019 Lenten message, tells us that the traditional Lenten disciplines should be teaching us to love creation, not despise it.
Creation urgently needs the revelation of the children of God, who have been made “a new creation”. For “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The path to Easter demands that we renew our faces and hearts as Christians through repentance, conversion and forgiveness, above all by fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
Fasting, that is, learning to change our attitude towards others and all of creation, turning away from the temptation to “devour” everything and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts. Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy. Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us. And thus to rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness.
Dear brothers and sisters, the “Lenten” period of forty days spent by the Son of God in the desert of creation had the goal of making it once more that garden of communion with God that it was before original sin (Mark 1:12-13; Is 51:3). May our Lent this year be a journey along that same path, bringing the hope of Christ also to creation, so that it may be “set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.
We invite you to read a few extracts from Pope Francis’s Lenten Messages for 2019 and 2020, because each year he recalls the desert. In this first extract from last year’s message, he talks about redeeming creation, since through avarice and neglect we are making deserts where there ought to be forest of farmland.
1.The Redemption of Creation
The celebration of the Paschal Triduum of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection calls us yearly to undertake a journey of preparation, in the knowledge that our being conformed to Christ (Romans 8:29) is a priceless gift of God’s mercy.
When we live as children of God, redeemed, led by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14) and capable of acknowledging and obeying God’s law, beginning with the law written on our hearts and in nature, we also benefit creation by cooperating in its redemption. That is why Saint Paul says that creation eagerly longs for the revelation of the children of God; in other words, that all those who enjoy the grace of Jesus’ paschal mystery may experience its fulfilment in the redemption of the human body itself.
When the love of Christ transfigures the lives of the saints in spirit, body and soul, they give praise to God. Through prayer, contemplation and art, they also include other creatures in that praise, as we see admirably expressed in the “Canticle of the Creatures” by Saint Francis of Assisi (Laudato Si’ 87). Yet in this world, the harmony generated by redemption is constantly threatened by the negative power of sin and death.
This is one of those pictures that say a thousand words. It is in Saint David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. Last time we were there, one of the canons was addressing a group of schoolchildren in Welsh, but this sculpture could speak in any language including its own.
Try holding your hands that way, and you’ll see that if they belong to one person, it is the viewer, and the dove is looking you in the eye; and the dove is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Of course, for the vast majority of us, for the overwhelming proportion of our time, we do not see such a sign of God when we pray. Is it all wishful thinking? Paul addressed the question in his letter to the Romans (8:24-28).
We are saved by hope. But hope that is seen, is not hope. For what a man seeth, why doth he hope for? But if we hope for that which we see not, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God. And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints.
Instead of racking our brains for the right words to pray with, let the Spirit utter our feelings and desires – the hopes and fears of all our years.
Between gurgles, crying, eye contact and all body movements, my new grandson conveys his needs and desires efficiently enough for his adults to jump to meet them. He prays as he ought, to make known his hopes, needs and love.
We moved on to Saint Martin’s Church, where our prayer was extempore.
The two walls shown here include plenty of Roman brick as well as a few local flints. There are three blocked off doorways; the central one may be the one Saint Bertha used in 597. The windows and buttress are recent. The ground has risen above the level of the church floor – is that 1400 years of burials?
From the oldest Church in town we went to one of the newest, the chapel of Canterbury Christ Church University. ‘Wow!’ said Caroline. It is a lovely space, but we especially came to see the tapestry.
Dear Lord our Father,
Jesus the Good Shepherd bids us welcome and extends to us the invitation “Come to me”. He knows the troubles we have, our weariness and our failing strength as we try our best to live our lives in keeping with your overarching plan for us and for the world.
Remind us to always turn to him for comfort and restoration whenever we feel life is becoming burdensome.
We are all at times lost sheep, in need of a desire to come back to you.
At this time we remember the artist of the Lost Sheep painting and entrust her soul to your tender care. May all those who find life difficult remember your invitation to come back to you. Amen
The Lost Sheep painting that hung in the chapel was by a former student who was found dead in the Solent.
Before leaving we looked at the Bible, open at Romans:
It is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’
A good verse for pilgrims!
We made our way back to Saint Mildred’s and stopped there to see the Good Shepherd statue, before we sat down, in true L’Arche tradition, to share a meal together.
There are many other places we could visit next time we have a MINI PILGRIMAGE AROUND CANTERBURY. Let’s see what next year brings!
We Catholics say the words at every Mass: ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.’ We know the Centurion of the lakeside garrison at Capernaum addressed them to Jesus, and they are a timely reminder of our unworthiness and sinfulness. But when Father Anthony read the passage from Luke 7 recently, I heard a subplot that I found interesting.
A certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant.
The Centurion does not address Jesus directly, but trusts his Jewish friends to present his plea, which they do, earnestly. The Centurion sends a second group of friends with the message:
I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
It is not clear that Jesus ever entered the Centurion’s house, or met him outside. But the intercession of the Centurion’s friends to Jesus was prayer enough. The servant was healed.
At All Saints’ tide I take three lessons I take from this story: firstly, to pray for others, as the Centurion’s friends do; secondly, to be open to praying to the saints, and thirdly, to put this text before any evangelical friends who shy away from doing so as ‘un-Biblical’.
You don’t have to pray to the saints ( although the standard prayer in the Litany is ‘Saint N., pray for us’) – but it may help!