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READING Mark 12:13-17
Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words.
They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?
Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”
They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.
Religious leaders have a responsibility to check out anyone who they think may be masquerading as a follower but actually be a disruptive influence and spreading untruths. The Pharisees had very set rules on how to behave and what to think. So, it was understandable that they should regard Jesus as disturbing their authority. The Herodians also saw Jesus as a threat. They both tried various ways to trap Jesus into saying something that was blasphemous to their religion or anarchism to the Roman rule.
They have thought of a question that they think will be impossible for Jesus to answer. I suspect this particular debate would have been one that they had many times among themselves. If they truly served God, why should their money have to go to the hated Roman oppressors?
Jesus immediately knows what they are up to. Wisdom is a gift from God that we should greatly desire. Knowing what to say and do in difficult situations. Jesus doesn’t immediately answer back their “impossible” question. Do you watch the Impossible Quiz game on TV? One answer is right, one is wrong, one is impossible because it doesn’t fit the whole of the question. Of course, like all game shows, it is also who can answer quickest. Jesus shows us that it is not the wisest course to answer quickly. An arrow prayer is the best first response. Help, Lord! I don’t know what to say in this difficult situation. What do I say to this person who asks me about the injustices of life, and where is God is their suffering?
Well, Jesus has a practical view on the question that the Pharisees have asked. He calls on a visual aid to make the point. It is a point well made for us too. We cannot call ourselves Christians if we begrudge, or even try to evade, taxes and fines. We must be honest in all our dealings with other people, not just to the letter of the law, but also to the spirit of the law.
The Pharisees are amazed at Jesus because he gets right to the nub of the dilemma. He doesn’t skirt round it or try to bluff his way out. He lays bare the truth that they already know, but don’t like. They must pay their taxes. Not because the Romans will imprison them, not because the tax gathers will cheat them and ask for more than they should, but because it is the right thing to do. Next time we are feeling that something is unfair and why should we have to do it, this lesson is for us too.
faithful and unchanging:
enlarge our minds with the knowledge of your truth,
and draw us more deeply into the mystery of your love,
that we may truly worship you,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.