Lesson: Isaiah 45:1-7
1 Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him — and the gates shall not be closed:
2 I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.
5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me,
6 so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.
7 I form light and create darkness. I make weal and create woe; I the LORD do all these things.
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were made from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE, and then assembled into a single book.
Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and are the words of a prophet (one who speaks for YHWH – translated as “LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) who called for Israel and Judea to repent in the years before Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE and Jerusalem came under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55. In these chapters, a prophet brought hope to the Judeans during the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they had suffered enough and would return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 in which a prophet gave encouragement to the Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile ended.
The Persian King, Cyrus II (558-530 BCE), defeated the Babylonians in 539 BCE and decreed the return of the Judeans to Jerusalem in the next year (Ezra 1:1-4).
In today’s reading, Isaiah spoke for YHWH to Cyrus and described him as “YHWH’s anointed” (v.1) to free the Judeans from the Babylonian Exile (587-539 BCE) and to spread YHWH’s fame (vv.4, 6). Cyrus was described as a “Messiah” commissioned by YHWH to conquer Babylon, and therefore to play a significant role in the restoration of Jerusalem. The verses state that YHWH controls everything (vv.5-7) and dictates the course of history. (On a cylinder inscribed in 538 BCE, Cyrus attributed his victory to Marduk, the god of Babylon).
Cyrus was the only non-Israelite called an “anointed” in the Hebrew Bible. Others who were anointed in the Hebrew Bible were kings, priests, and some prophets.
The Persians ruled over Israel and Judea until 333 BCE when Alexander the Great defeated them. The Persian Period (539-333) was generally one of peace and prosperity in Judea and saw a substantial number of texts composed that are part of the Hebrew Bible.
Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
2 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9 For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead– Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was Paul’s first letter and was written around 50 CE. Thessaloniki is a seaport and was the capital of Macedonia. Both Macedonia and Achaia (Greece) were Roman provinces.
In speaking of a “church” (v.1), Paul used the term for a citizen assembly. Paul’s reference to faith, love, and hope (v.3) is a familiar combination that he used in many other letters. The letter encouraged the community to be steadfast in the face of persecution.
Paul is clear in referring to Jesus of Nazareth as “the Christ” (Greek for “the Messiah”) but recognized that not all of the events expected from the coming of the Messiah had been accomplished. Paul therefore expected a parousia – a Second Coming – when Jesus would come and rule. Much of the letter to the Thessalonians encourages them to remain steadfast until these end times occur.
Gospel: Matthew 22:15-22
The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.