1ST JUNE 2021
MEMORIAL OF ST. JUSTIN, MARTYR
TOBIT 2:9-14 PSALM 112:1-9 MARK 12:13-17
GIVE TO CAESAR WHAT BELONGS TO CAESAR AND TO GOD WHAT BELONGS TO GOD.
In today's Gospel passage no one would have expected the Pharisees and the Herodians to come together on the issue of taxation. The former opposed the Roman empire and the latter actively worked with it but their shared disdain for Jesus brought the two ideologically and politically opposed groups together.
They offered false praise of Jesus before posing a question - Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? - aimed at entrapment.
This question has the connotation of ensnaring someone in their own words. The question was meant to offer Jesus no alternative but to either defy Caesar or oftend those who are resisting Rome, which likely included most of his followers.
Taxes were not just a source of revenue for the empire but also Rome's mechanism for subjugating people. However, considering the extreme repercussions of refusing to pay taxes the question should have been, " Is it legal not to pay taxes to Caesar? " The answer was a big no, at least from a Roman perspective.
The question in today's Gospel passage about paying taxes was not only political but also moral and theological. It brings to the fore questions such as: Is what is legal necessarily moral? What comes first, loyalty to God through my faith or can I do an activity and attend to matters of faith later?
Can a society have what is lawful but not acceptable to faith? Hence, even as one pay taxes due to Caesar, one should even pay what is due to God.
In the recent past we have heard cases of people who defer important activities like sitting for exams,work related assignments or even family affairs in favour of their faith. Is this an example of this Gospel passage taken too far because according to them, God comes first.
This Gospel passage should be read carefully so as to prevent it from being applied hyperbolically in an exaggerated manner.
But what is the relationship between the political and theological aspects of paying taxes or doing anything else like family obligations, medical needs or academic obligations?
Paying to both Caesar and God was not so much about keeping both of them happy but about carefully considering the complexity of the issue at hand. Apart from taxes we can have other issues.
While people pay taxes to Rome out of obligation, they pay to God because of their calling and their commitment to promote an alternative Kingdom that has separate mission and vision.
We may not be happy with what happens in our society and not paying taxes or refusing to engage in some activities may not necessarily eliminate what we do not like.
The question is- what is? Bearing in mind that a coin with the likeness of Caesar is at the centre of this debate, what are the mechanisms - the coinage- we need to put in place in order to transform the current reality and bring into place one acceptable to God?