Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b, Matthew 22:15-21.
The Liturgy Teaches Us Who Created Us and Why He Created Us
In this week’s First Reading from Deutero-Isaiah’s chapter on Prophetic Fulfillment in the New Exodus – Isaiah 45:1, 4-6, we encounter a remarkable prophecy about God’s plan for His people. God announces that He will anoint Cyrus, a foreign king, as His instrument to liberate Israel from exile. This is an unprecedented act of grace, since Cyrus is not a believer in the God of Israel, but a worshiper of pagan gods. The text reads, “Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp, subduing nations before him, and making kings run in his service, opening doors before him and leaving the gates unbarred: For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not. I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is no other.” The prophecy reveals that God is sovereign over all nations and history. He can use anyone, even an outsider, to fulfill His purposes. God also shows His love and care for Israel by calling them His chosen ones and His servants. He wants them to know that He alone is God, and there is no other. Given that the Old Testament uses the term ‘messiah,’ only in regard to kings, prophets,  and priests, but never to point to the promised one to herald the final age of Israel, and given that the Jewish idea is that every generation has a messiah, the future foreign pagan king Cyrus being a messiah is not insensible.
The prophecy also contrasts the relationship between God and Cyrus with that between Cyrus and his own gods. In the ancient Near East, kings would claim to have a special bond with their patron deities, often symbolized by holding their hands during coronation ceremonies. For example, the Cylinder of Cyrus, a clay document from the 6th century BC records his conquest of Babylon, depicts him as a loyal devotee of Marduk, the chief god of Babylon. The cylinder also accuses Nabonidus, the last Babylonian king whom Cyrus defeated, of being a wicked tyrant who neglected Marduk and his temples. However, Deutero-Isaiah tells us that it is not Marduk who empowers Cyrus, but the true God of Israel. God says He will take hold of Cyrus’ right hand and guide him to victory over his enemies. He will also give him access to hidden treasures and secret riches as a sign of His favor. However, Cyrus does not acknowledge or worship God or even know His name. He is unaware that he is being used by the Eternal God to bring about His will for His people.
Therefore, the prophecy shows us how God works in mysterious and surprising ways to accomplish His plan for salvation. He can use anyone or anything, even those who do not know Him or love Him, to advance His kingdom. He can also bless those who cooperate with His will, even if they do not realize it. He is always in control and always faithful to His promises.
This theme of God calling us according to His purpose and mercy is also present in today’s Second Reading from 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b. In this passage, the Apostle Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy write a letter of encouragement to the Church at Thessalonica. He says, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father, knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, how you were chosen. For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.” Paul praises the community for responding to their call of conversion from paganism to Christianity. He reminds them that God Himself selected them. He also adds in vv. 6-7, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” In this way, he commends them for allowing them to be used as examples to non-believers for the glory of God through their imitation of Christ and the apostles, despite their suffering.
In the case of Cyrus, we heard about a future King who would not choose God but leaned into his culture and tradition of trusting in false gods. However, God chooses Him to bring about His divine and perfect will. Then, in the case of the Christian community in Thessalonica, we heard about converts to the faith who were on fire for having been chosen by God and recused from serving false gods, so that they might be used to bring about His divine and perfect will. Now enters the Gospel Reading from Matthew 22:15-21, where Jesus uses a trivial question about census taxes to teach that whatever is created in the image of God, belongs to God alone, saying to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that, he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
Some of us are like King Cyrus in our vain belief that we belong to ourselves, our tradition, or our culture. In that belief, we become slaves to things beneath God, only to be used by God because His divine and perfect goodness will always be accomplished through us, whether we cooperate or not. Others of us are like the converts in Thessalonica. We genuinely believe in our calling and are thankful for it, and we do our best to be an example of who created us and why He called us.
Inasmuch as the liturgy of the Mass affords opportunities for both of these people to receive the grace of God, only the latter is disposed to witness how the liturgy is constantly showing us who we are and who God is. From the opening procession to every movement throughout the liturgy, we are reminded that we are being called to process towards God. The sacred Scriptures we hear at Mass remind us how much God loves us, and we respond to Him saying we love you too, saying, “Thanks be to God,” “Praise be to you Lord Jesus Christ.” The Holy Eucharist is the perfect reminder of the work that God is doing in us; for if he can take a dead thing like bread and wine and make its essence a living thing, Himself, then how much more can He do with those who are living beings created in His image? Then, after our mother has taught us through the liturgy how to walk, how to speak, and how to worship, pray, and confess, she then dismisses us out of her arms so that we might be living examples of true culture, tradition, and faith; true examples of who created us and why we were created.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the Liturgy and how the Liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the Liturgy.
 Cf. 1 Sam. 16:6; 2 Sam. 19:22.
 Cf. Ps. 105:15.
 Cf. Lev. 4:3; Dan 9:23-26.