Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Year A

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

The Backside

October 18, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.

As I think about all the ways we keep ourselves from being ready to see God’s face, I wonder how the glimpses we do catch of God’s glory are beckoning us on, inspiring us to let go of our sin and prepare our hearts for more of God’s presence.



Spirituality & Psychology

How Autumn Leaves Color Our Inner Lives

Linda Wasmer Andrews

Psychology Today

Appreciating autumn’s changing leaves may change us for the better.

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Business & Technology

See how 200 artisans helped keep this small business afloat

Fátima Álvarez, Co Founder, Someone Somewhere

Google Small Businesses

A story about a business that brings the work of artisans around the world to consumers and how they have adapted during Covid.

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Science & Nature

Smart Pigs vs Kids | Extraordinary Animals

BBC Earths


Experiments with pigs and toddlers, revealing the remarkable intelligence of pigs.

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Where do you see the backside of God, and what does that glimpse make you wonder about the glory yet to be revealed?


The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”—Exodus 33:18-23

We are not ready to see the face of God. We long to see, and too, we fear seeing. It would change us in ways that we are not ready to accept. In today’s lesson from Exodus, Moses asks God to show himself so that Moses can be sure God is with him. It’s a transactional approach—convince me you love me and are with me. Prove it to me. The very request reflects that Moses is not ready to see the fullness of God. Moses asks for proof of divine love. God agrees to Moses’ request, but with a caveat—he will cover Moses’ face with his divine hand, and Moses will only see his backside. Like in a dream of one who has left us, where we can almost touch them, but not quite. It is the lost parent or child or lover who appears in a crowd in our dream and then passes through, too quickly for us to apprehend and embrace them. This is the kind of moment God offered to Moses. See, but do not possess me.

In today’s gospel, the religious leaders set a trap for Jesus.

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.—Matthew 22:15-22

They want him to prove where his loyalties lie. He will not respond as they desire. They cannot possess him as they desire. You choose how to allocate your treasure, he tells them, in effect. You already know what to do.

As long as we limit ourselves to transactions the object of which is to possess or trap the other for our use, we are not ready to see God in his fullness.

We see the backside of the Divine. Right beside us, yet just beyond our reach. It’s only a glimpse of what our hearts were made for. Yet, what a glimpse it is: the autumn leaves that soothe our spirits, the work of a small business to keep artisans around the world employed during covid, the capacity of pigs to use mirrors and play games that reveals to us the sentience we sometimes would find easier to deny in nonhuman animals. (See today’s lessons for links to these stories). We are forever catching glimmers of the ineffable.

There will come a time when we no longer engage in bargains, transactions, and traps. A day when we already know we are all, each and every one of us, beloved, fully, as we are, with all of our failures and shining moments of truth. On that day, we will see God's face. Until then, we see the beautiful yet elusive backside of the Divine.