Thursday, May 26, 2016

Why is it so hard to choose life when life is what we all want?

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“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left Him and went away.   Matthew 22:21-22

We’ve all heard sad stories but today’s gospel lesson records the saddest of all. We learn from St. Matthew that the people who were with Jesus that day heard what He had to say, marveled at His wisdom, and then promptly left Him and went away to live their lives without Him. Does that amaze us? On the one hand, as people who’ve been enlightened by the Spirit of God, it surely does. We know that malice towards the Christ is not only the saddest possible existence, but also the most dangerous, because without Jesus life is a dead end, both temporally and eternally, yet on the other hand it doesn’t surprise us because we know the power of sin, not only from Scripture but also from personal experience. Sin makes us blind. It makes us thick. It makes us cotton-headed and drives us to act against our own best interest.

In the book of Deuteronomy Moses read God’s Law to the people and in a detailed and plain sermon that anyone could understand he set two choices before their eyes: life and death, but before they could respond he added these words, “choose life!” “Choose life that both you and your descendants may live…” Why did he do that? Wasn’t the choice obvious? Don’t we always act in our own best interest, especially when the choices are so clear? Unfortunately not. When it comes to matters that reason can comprehend we can be very savvy. We read, study and do our homework to insure that we pick the option that yields the most benefits, but in spiritual matters nothing is clear! Sin has turned us into fools, simpletons who can’t see God’s gifts even when they’re placed in front of us. The Herodians and Scribes in today’s gospel lesson are a perfect example.  They stood in the presence of Jesus but couldn’t connect the dots.  St. Matthew informs us that as they heard Him they marveled at His words and wondered at His wisdom.  How could they not? To meet Jesus was to encounter God in human flesh.  He taught with authority, not just because He was more talented than the Scribes, whose call it was to teach and interpret the Law, but because He is the Living Word, Scripture’s author, so every word that He spoke carried the unmistakable ring of truth, but it wasn’t only His words that caused such wonder in people.  It was also the way He conducted Himself among men. They observed the way He lived, that He was always holy, always gracious, always pure and unlike anything they had ever seen before. To be in His presence must have been as exhilarating as it was wondrous, and there was no aspect of Jesus that they wanted to miss, but in the end St. Matthew tells us that they left Him and went away.

What were they leaving behind?  They were walking away from the only One who can save us from sin, and fulfill the obligations we owe to God and Caesar.  As odious as it might seem sometimes, even citizens of heaven must fulfill their obligations to Caesar, not only for fear of punishment, but out or reverence for God who established government as His ministers to keep order in the sinful world.  Usually we don’t like the things Caesar demands of us.  He has an insatiable appetite for our money, he likes to send us traffic tickets in the mail, and send our children off to fight senseless wars. He’s never quite happy until he controls everything and everyone. That’s not the way God wants things to be. He expects those who govern to be noble and to rule with wisdom. He charges them to make intelligent laws that reward people for doing good, and punish them for doing evil, but more often than not those things get turned around, so the kings of the world must remember that they, too, have a King to whom they are answerable; a king named Jesus, who is the “King of kings and Lord of lords.”  Caesar loves power and glory.  He loves to coin money and put his name and picture on it so that we never forget who it belongs to, but Jesus doesn’t criticize him for this.  Instead He instructs us: render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars. If we do Caesar is happy, but things aren’t so simple regarding our obligations to God because He isn’t satisfied with mere outward performance.  We can’t get Him out of our hair or out or our conscience by filling in paperwork and paying money.  God demands more of us than anyone can possibly fulfill.  He requires that we fear, love and trust in Him above all things. He insists that we live our lives like Jesus did, giving our full time and attention to Him, but this is impossible for sinners to do, so Jesus came to our rescue, came to save us and to do all the things that we cannot.  Not only did He obey the civil law and even submit His life to it, but He did much more!  He fulfilled the righteous demands of God’s law for us, and then died to expiate our sins.  This is what the Scribes, and all who reject Jesus today leave behind: the only Savior and friend a sinner ever had.

However sad a commentary that is, please understand that it’s the natural tendency of us all. Left to our own devices we to, would walk away, but God calls us by the Gospel to come to Jesus, never to leave Him behind: not the Jesus of modern theology, but St. Matthew’s Jesus; the One who saw the evil intent of the Scribes, and called them on it; the One who made them “feel bad” without apology and never a thought of attending an “anger management” seminar; the One who antagonized them to such a degree that they manufactured whatever evidence it would take to get rid of Him (Luke 23:2);  the One who was handed over for our trespasses, and raised again for our justification (Romans 4:25);  The One who “while we were yet sinners…died for the ungodly,” and who became the Wisdom and Power of God (1 Cor 1:30), and the source of eternal Salvation for all who put their hope in Him.

Through the Church God still calls out to all men to repent of their sins, believe the Gospel, and be baptized. He calls out to us all to learn true wisdom from His Word, to join the church in her Holy Communion, to live each day as citizens of heaven, and to wait patiently for our Savior to return, who will change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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