Reflections for the Week
Christ & Taxes
People have a love-hate attitude towards taxes and those who collect them. In our country, the issue of
collecting - never mind, raising - taxes is always a thorny one.
In their effort to trap Jesus, the Pharisees and the Herodians find a sensitive issue in the taxes paid to Rome.
The two parties are at enmity with each other: the Pharisees are staunch adherents to the law; the Herodians, supporters of Herod and allies of the Roman power. Now they are united in a common desire to eliminate Jesus.
Devout Jews believe that they are subject to God alone. The silver denarius that they use to pay taxes not only bears the image of the Emperor Tiberius but also an inscription that Jews consider blasphemous: “Tiberius Caesar, son of the Deified Augustus.” It is a constant reminder of their yoke and humiliation.
The pretentious appreciation of Jesus as a teacher of “the way of God in accordance with the truth” and his independence from anyone's opinion is a way of reminding him that he must pronounce his teaching without fear of challenging the Roman authority. The Herodians, meanwhile, are waiting to hear him forbid the paying of taxes, an act of treason to the Roman government. By limiting the answer to yes or no, they set a trap.
Jesus knows their malice. He asks for the very coin used to pay the census tax, reminding them that they are
living under the Roman authority and using the currency in their daily lives. It is ironic that they use the coin Caesar minted for commercial advantage but do not want to take up the responsibility of paying taxes when a cost is involved. The coin’s inscription makes it a property seal of Caesar. He minted it. It was his. To him it must go back: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.”
But more importantly, Jesus reminds his audience that they are also God’s people and are, therefore, citizens of the divine Kingdom. God has imprinted his image not on silver metal but on human beings. Created by God, human beings are his. What is therefore God’s must be given back to God.
The Gospel does not give us Jesus’ handy prescription on our responsibility towards country and God. Jesus does not point out where the boundaries between the two duties lie. This is up to everyone’s conscience. A good Christian would always know what promotes the country’s welfare. God has ordained that human rule should be established on earth, but only that it may reflect God’s own wise and loving governance and not supersede it with an uncaring and oppressive domination.
365 Days with the Lord Fr Renato Repole SJ
We have a double citizenship, one of this world in which we live now, and the other of the kingdom of God. We have duties and obligations to both the kingdoms and hence there should be no clashes between the two. Jesus made it very clear to the Pharisees who attempted to trap him that they need to be loyal both to God and to the Emperor. No one can peacefully exist in a divided society since a society without rules and regulations cannot offer a conducive atmosphere to live and practice one’s religion. By their nature, human beings are social beings. Therefore, rules and regulations that bring unity and order to the society need to be respected. A good believer needs to be a good citizen as well. One’s religious practices should not be at the expense of the rules and regulations of one’s country and vice versa.
God’s Word Fr Blaise K SSP
The first disciples at Thessalonika must have found themselves strangers in their own city, like aliens in a foreign land. After their conversion they found themselves questioning their way of life and the life of their neighbours. Paul’s conversion experience made them see values in a new way. As a small community they witnessed to their values and lived in the hope of Christ’s Second Coming. Being faithful to the Gospel was important, living with integrity and supporting each other in the face of opposition was central to life. Like any Church under persecution, faith tends to be strong in the face of opposition. In the Gospel Jesus shows that it is important to live in the midst of the world and support activities of the State which are compatible with Gospel values. He tells the Pharisees that they must pay their taxes. They must render what is due to Caesar and support others in this way. However, there are limits to this when Christian values and Caesar’s values clash with one another. The Christian is called to be faithful to God. St Thomas More summarises this view in his opposition to Henry Vlll’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon with a view to marrying Anne Boleyn. He said, “I am the King’s Good Servant but God’s first.” He was prepared to suffer death for his beliefs and subsequently he was executed.
In the First Reading, the people of Israel see that God works through an outsider. King Cyrus is chosen by God to achieve his purposes and lead the people back from exile. It seems surprising that God chose him. However, it is a reminder that the power and plan of God cannot be limited. While he is not a Jew, Cyrus does God’s will and the Jews benefit from this. Sometimes our friends are to be found in surprising places too.
As Christians we are called to be witnesses to our faith in the midst of society. Like leaven, Christian values permeate through places of work, school, family and organisations. Little by little Christian love makes its presence felt. This often happens in ways which are quiet and unannounced. Christians are called to pay their taxes which
contribute to the good of others and because they recognise that they live as members of a society with duties to others. If there is knowledge of how taxes are being misused or used for immoral purposes, then there is a duty to examine this question further.
It could lead to a stand of conscientious objection against a particular issue. At other times there is need to stand out and argue against practices or laws in society when they contradict God’s plan. The example of human cloning or embryonic stem cell research are such issues where society’s values conflict with the teaching of the Church. Informing conscience and then deciding on the action to be taken is part of being faithful to the Gospel.
The Living Word Redemptorist Publications
Fr Bill's Thoughts