Show me the money – 9th week in Ordinary time- Tuesday- Mark 12:13-17
Lather and shave, that’s what the late Fr Larry Pereira, my former parish priest, often called the method employed by some to obscure the knives drawn out before the kill. Disarm the victim with flummery and when the unsuspecting victim finds comfort in the barber’s chair, pull out the razor.
Flummery, the Jewish authorities did apply, albeit futilely with Jesus. If Jesus did not fall for the wily ways of satan’s temptatious offers, He most certainly would not fall for the puffery of the Pharisees and Herodians. So when they approached Him, heaping ‘certificates of character’ like ‘you are a sincere man’ ‘you show no deference to any one’ ‘you teach the way of God in accordance with truth’, it has no effect on the Lord.
Jesus confronts their hypocrisy. “Why” he asks them, “are you putting me to the test?” They thought they had an ingenious plan; butter Him up like a croissant before posing a seemingly unanswerable query. But tried their luck and failed, they did!
Politics makes strange bed fellows. The Herodians could barely stand the Pharisees. The former were politicians aligned to King Herod and by extension to the hated Romans; the latter were religious lawmakers. Independently, they had knives drawn at each other’s throats. Together they struck a deal to lock Jesus in the horns of a dilemma. Should Jesus consent to paying the hated Poll tax?
Three taxes were imposed by the Romans on Judea. The first was the ground tax, which was 10% of all grain and 20% of all wine and fruit. The second was the income tax, which amounted to 1% of a man’s income. The third was the poll tax, paid by men aged 12 to 65 and women 14 to 65. This was one denarius a year, about a day’s wage for a labourer.
To deny the paying of the tax would make Jesus an enemy of the state. To approve of it would make him a traitor in the eyes of the Jewish people. If I may use some artistic license, Jesus’ response could have well been, ‘show me the money!’ and show Him they did, with the image of the Emperor Tiberius and here in was the solution.
The coin had the image of the Emperor with the idolatrous inscription ‘Tiberius Caesar divi Augusti filius Augustus’. Tiberius had simply taken on the title of divinity which made him even more hated in the eyes of the Jews. Why then would a Jew not want to ‘render’ or give back what belonged to Caesar? Why keep that which was a symbol of oppression?
Jesus was not opposed to paying taxes and neither should we. In Matthew 17:24- 27 He instructs Simon to pay tax so as to not ‘give offense’ even though ‘sons should be exempt’. ‘Yet in allowing them to pay the tax He challenges His audience to be as exact in serving God as they are in serving Caesar.’ (JBC)
Fr Warner D’Souza