Hearing Hard Words

Reading the gospel lessons over the past few Sundays, I've been struck
 by some of the difficult things Jesus has to say. Just this summer
Jay has preached about Jesus' insistence that we forgive those who
wrong us, and I preached a sermon about the scandal of grace from a
passage where the master asks, "Is your eye evil because I am good?"
And in the reading from this past Sunday, Jesus says, "Many are called
but few are chosen." These are not the words of a smooth and easy
Jesus. These words are hard and angular, like an outcropping of rocks
we find ourselves crashing against. What do we make of words like
this? Can we imagine the Jesus we say we love and worship saying such
things, demanding such things from us? There are some of the questions
I've been left with as I have pondered these "hard words".

This week we will spend some time pondering another set of difficult
words. In response to a trick question about taxes, Jesus says,
"Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God
the things that are God’s" (Matt. 22:21).  We can marvel at the way in
which his answer cuts through the intentions of his questioners and
instead springs a trap on them, but his answer is more than a clever
evasion of a political trap. These words are meant to challenge our
conceptions of obligation. What do we owe the reigning power of the
day? And what do we owe God? To render something is to give something
that is owed, something that we are obliged to give. And so we must
ask, do we have the order right? Are we rendering what we ought to
whom it is properly owed?

But these words do not simply present a challenge to us. They also
present an opportunity. Jesus lived in a charged and deeply divided
political moment, a moment reminiscent of our own time. There is
difficulty in what Jesus says, but there is also so much hope in it,
because it indicates to me that Jesus wants to point us beyond the
political. He isn't saying these questions aren't important, but he is
challenging us to reframe their importance in light of what we truly
owe to God. And my prayer is that we as God's people can bear witness
to that.

- Chris+