Image: Richardson Mountains
Our Psalm this morning is a very poetic piece about the timelessness of God and the limited time that we experience in the course of our mortal lives. For God, a thousand years are like a day while we toil and struggle for 70 or 80 years, if we are lucky, and then we fly away. It is not meant to give us anxiety over the shortness of our lives but rather, perspective.
We read in the letter of Peter that the early Christian community was waiting eagerly for the return of Christ as he had promised. They assumed that soon Jesus would be back and all reality as they knew it would come to blazing end at the hands of God. As they waited, they were constantly on guard. Their morality was stoked by the understanding that if they slipped and gave in to their human weakness, they might miss that glorious moment when Jesus came back and would be lost forever.
Two thousand years later, we have come to understand that the immanent arrival of the second coming of Jesus is measured differently for God then it is for us. It is not that we have given up on the promise, but we know that we cannot live in fear, with the thought of God’s punishment for our sins consuming our every waking moment. Life goes on and we are meant be fully alive.
So, we find ourselves living in a paradox. On the one hand God’s plan continues to unfold from one generation to the next while our life is fixed to this particular time. How do we understand something eternal from our point of view which is so finite?
The Gospel today might help give us an understanding. On the surface it is a question about whether or not the Jewish people should be obligated to pay taxes to the Romans who were occupying the territory. It was a question meant to test Jesus as there was seemingly no answer that would not get him into trouble. But, as per usual, Jesus manages to move the question to a deeper level and, in doing so, gives us a clue to the answer we are looking for.
Give to the emperor the things that belong to the emperor and give to God the things that belong to God. In describing the denarius, the coin used to pay the tax, Jesus is describing our human condition. We are in the world, but we belong to God.
While we are in the world, we must live for today the best life we are able. Not out of fear but because it is the right thing to do. We need to look after our families well, eat well, stay sober, pay our taxes, and contribute to our community. We cannot cower in hiding somewhere hoping not to make a mistake, waiting for heaven while life happens around us. Like our short northern summers, our life, while limited in time, is a gift full of opportunity. It is ours for a time and we do not know how long. While we are here, we are to make the best of it, keeping mind that this life is not all that there is.
We live this life with the constant hope that, at its end, we will return to God who is the source of our life. This hope guides us in the decisions we make and the priorities we choose. We make those choices not out of fear but out of gratitude and love for God who has created us and loved us first. Life does not always make sense and it comes with its share of sorrow and pain, but we do not need all the answers now, our understanding of some things will have to wait. But God is with us now, he created us, and we belong to Him.