Jakarta, 22 October 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
THERE’S NO NO-WIN SITUATION FOR JESUS
(A biblical reflection on the 29th ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 22 October 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 22:15-21
First Reading: Isaiah 45:1,4-6; Psalms: Psalm 96:1,3-5,7-10; Second Reading: 1Thessalonians 1:1-5b
Then the Pharisees went and took counsel how to entangle Him in His talk. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for You do not regard the position of men. Tell us, then, what You think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put Me to the test, you hypocrites? Show Me the money for the tax.” And they brought Him a coin. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:15-21 RSV)
In today’s Gospel reading, some of the Pharisees (a group of very strict Jews) along with a few Herodians (Jews who supported King Herod and advocated Jewish cooperation with the Romans) ask Jesus if it is alright to pay tax to the emperor, a question they are sure will get Jesus in trouble because it puts Him in a very delicate situation.
In Jesus’ day, the Romans ruled Palestine and when the Roman emperor declared himself to be the only king of the land he issued his own coins as a sign of his authority. Because the Jews believed God was their King, they were outraged because they thought the emperor was trying to take God’s place. Since using a coin with the emperor’s image on it would have been like acknowledging his sovereignty over them, the Jews minted their own coins and used Roman coins only when they had to (e.g., when paying taxes to the Romans).
Since God was their King, many Jews also believed their tax money should go for the upkeep of God’s house, the Temple in Jerusalem, but the Romans insisted the Jews pay taxes to the emperor, a practice that offended the Jews because they believed the emperor was stealing from God. To make matters even worse, the emperor then used some of this money to fuild pagan temples. You can see that the Jews had good reasons for not wanting to pay taxes to the Romans.
If Jesus responds to the question posed by the Pharisees and Herodians by saying the Jews should not pay taxes, He knows the Herodians will report Him to the Romans and they will arrest Him. However, if He says paying taxes is acceptable, He will offend many of His Jewish followers. It looks like Jesus is in a no-win situation.
Just when He seems trapped, Jesus asks the Pharisees and Herodians whose image is on the coin. Since the answer is “Caesar’s”, Jesus reasons that it then must belong to Caesar and should therefore be returned to him. This story suggests Jesus did not object to paying taxes to the emperor.
(Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 102-103.)
Prayer: Holy Spirit, may Your breath blow through the halls of governments everywhere. Move world leaders to place Your concern first, so that every nation on earth will be free to adore You. Amen.
Jakarta, 20 October 2017
A Christian Pilgrim