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Bible Study Guide for Sunday, October 22, Year A

October 22, 2023

● Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99

● Or Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96

● 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

● Matthew 22:15-22

Reading today's Gospel always gives me a bit of a chuckle, but I do wish Jesus had taken the time to give a serious answer. On the surface this is a question about taxes, but I see the Pharisees' question as an attempt to create a set of boundaries for how much of our lives we give to God versus worldly powers. Taxes are just one way we acknowledge the sometimes-ugly requirements of living in the world, and the ways we sometimes need to compromise by using the gifts God gave us to earthly causes. The question of how to strike a balance in my own life has given me much trouble over the years and I crave a sense of certainty. Where can certainty be found?

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus's words are frequently urgent, apocalyptic, and filled with a sense of NOW. There's no time to waste, stop distracting yourself, don't be misled by the world, the kingdom of God is at hand! In fact, immediately preceding this section in Matthew, Jesus tells the parable of the wedding banquet, where guests are invited to a wedding feast but many ignore the message and others take the place of the original guests; one guest is cast out into the outer darkness "where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" because of his garb. Jesus is focused on the end of the world and the importance of preparing for God's immanent arrival. This doesn't seem to leave much space for paying taxes and other mundane tasks. My guess is the Pharisees heard this parable and saw a chance to finally get Jesus to say outright that the emperor should be ignored in favor of God's kingdom - already strongly implied by His parables. 

Yet Matthew says it outright: "The Pharisees plotted to entrap Jesus". I think this is important to highlight because this wasn't just a trap for Jesus, but this way of thinking is a trap for us in our own time. Jesus doesn't offer a clear-cut answer, I think because He knows our tendency to use easy answers as shortcuts, when the answer is always in the Holy Spirit. We have as an example the early Christians of Thessaloniki, of whom Paul says "in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit[...] in every place your faith in God has become known". Did the Thessalonians pay their taxes, cook their dinner, labor at jobs, care for children? Likely all this and more. Communities of early Christians did not fizzle out as doomsday cults but thrived within the world thanks to the gifts of the Holy Spirit for which they prayed. So likewise may we pray for a spirit to do God's will in the world in whatever we do. — Betsy Noecker


How do you try to balance your faith with the demands of daily life? 

Have you ever prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide you in acting or making a decision? Why or why not?

How do you deal with ambivalence and open-ended answers in your faith life?


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