Every other night I read J. a book entitled Dew Drops. It’s a picture book with a flower on one page and the flower’s name on the other. No matter that the bloom depicted is a rose, tiger lily, or tulip, each has a dewdrop somewhere on its pedal, stem, or leaf. With every page turn, a new flower awaits, and a hidden dewdrop is discovered. While J. is too little to read the names of the flowers, one day, he will. He might even wonder where words come from and discover that words are symbols, and symbols point to something that is at once present and transcendent. Learning that a rose is a rose is a rose may one day lead to wondering where that rose came from, which ultimately makes one contemplate life itself.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is asking the Pharisees to look at a picture. It was a picture of the emperor. The emperor was a symbol of power and empire. The emperor was also a symbol of death and taxes. The power of the emperor and his kingdom would one day kill Jesus in a state-sanctioned execution. The irony is found in what cannot be captured in a picture or on the face of a coin. Even though Jesus would be executed by the powers of this world, he would be raised by forces that transcend it. He would be visibly raised by the invisible God. He would render God his very self; thus, rendering life to all – including the Caesars, sinners, and saints of this world.
It is perfectly acceptable to give the government its due in our own day in age. It is simply unfortunate if we do not also contemplate more than what the pictures reveal. This week, look beyond the image. Look beyond the symbols and discover mystery rendering herself to you.
Psalm 23 was balm in an otherwise chafed week. As I read its words again for the first time, I found myself dropping all pretense allowing its words to massage my soul ineffably. In particular, I found comfort in its second verse:
[The Lord] makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
Where do you find stillness these days?
Where do you find quiet?
Like the Psalmist, do you believe God leads you into stillness?
Like a caring Father who knows our needs better than we, does God make you lie down in order to find rest?
We find ourselves climbing a mountain with Isaiah and companioning with the church’s early female saints in today’s readings. We were called out of our complacency by Christ, and Christ serving as a judge pointed to outer darkness as a threat to our souls. Complacency and apathy are not the only dangers to our souls these days. Another may be refusing the Lord as Shepherd, the Lord who leads, the Lord who not only made the heavens and the earth, but makes us lie down in green pastures. It is this Lord who pats us on our backs to settle us. It is this Lord who whispers, “Get some rest.” “Go to sleep.” “It’s okay.” “Everything’s going to be alright.”
This fatherly sentiment is something the great hymnist Isaac Watts discovered in the 23rd Psalm. Today I’ll leave you with his paraphrase of this arresting Psalm.
My Shepherd will supply my need, Jehovah is his Name;
in pastures fresh he makes me feed beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back when I forsake his ways,
and leads me, for his mercy’s sake, in paths of truth and grace.
When I walk through the shades of death, thy presence is my stay;
one word of thy supporting breath drives all my fears away.
Thy hand, in sight of all my foes, doth still my table spread;
my cup with blessings overflows, thy oil anoints my head.
The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;
Oh, may thy house become abode and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come;
No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.
~The Hymnal 1982, p. 664
Where do you find [childlike] stillness these days?
While outside, J. does not like being in his stroller. Walking and pointing out things are more his style. Yesterday afternoon’s walk took on this new game. He rebuked the stroller, reached for my hand, and pointed down the street. J. wanted to walk. He wanted to walk and see the Halloween decorations a few houses down, and that is what we did.
It’s a small miracle when my child takes me by the hand and leads me. Just like he was reluctant to take a ride in his stroller, I was unwilling to follow his lead, but am forever grateful for choosing his way instead of my own. Yesterday J. reminded me of innocence, surprise, and delight. J. showed me joy, invited me to play, and to see – to see. When was the last time joyful innocence caught you by the hand and pulled you along to surprise?