Round two goes to Jesus – Tuesday, 9th week in ordinary time – Mark 12:13-17
For many who profess the Christian faith, the Holy Week is telescoped into the latter half of the week. Yet it is the first half of the week, which is often ignored, that saw some intense verbal skirmishes between Jesus and the religious leaders of that time.
A few verses earlier, Our Lord, has sent them packing with their tails between their legs. They “realised that he had told the parable about them” (12:12). This was no ordinary parable for the parable of wicked tenants has a rather tidy and neatly encapsulated heading when in reality it was not only wickedness that the religious authorities were culpable of but murder.
The parable which Jesus narrated would not only prophecy the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple but would also bring about the plan of God for the salivation of the world; his son, his “beloved son” (12:6) would be put to death by the end of this very week.
Yet, the religious leaders were shameless! Having failed at trapping him themselves, “they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians.” Scripture tells us that their intentions were clear, “they wanted to trap him.” (12:13)
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).
The second round too, belongs to our Lord. Tomorrow, we hear of round three… the knockout!