In the Lectionary

October 22, Ordinary 29A (Matthew 22:15–22)

I take seriously the absence of a denarius in Jesus’ own hand.

In my journey as a follower of Jesus, I have moved through and been shaped by very different Christian communities. These differences have been theological, geographical, socioeconomic, racial, and cultural. I was raised in a small Presbyterian church in New Hampshire; I was educated at a Baptist high school and a Brethren in Christ college, both predominantly White institutions; as a young adult, I matured in a Christian Reformed Church in North Philadelphia pastored by a Puerto Rican man, a Korean man, and a White woman; and I am now an active member in a 300-year-old Mennonite faith community.

My reading of scripture today is informed by each of these communities and their theological convictions, even those that I no longer hold or never held myself. I read scripture mindful of the very different ways people of faith engage, understand, interpret, and live out the sacred text. There is tension and disagreement in these differences, but there is also, for me, a keen sense of the need to read in community, to read with an openness to the fullness of possible meanings, a humility about our own understanding, a wisdom about the cultural biases or blind spots that we all have, and a commitment to the truth.

There are certain passages where this way of reading is particularly challenging. For me, the most challenging are often well-known passages with both a complicated history of interpretation and powerful implications for our lives. Matthew 22 is precisely this kind of passage. It contains some of Jesus’ most well-known, quoted, and debated words: “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”