Keeping To Civic Duties
A mixed assortment of slaves had been made into a people, obtained freedom, and was on its way to a land of its own. People without hope had been given dreams of a great future. All this because there was a God “foolish” enough to attach himself to these people and to love them without any merit on their part. This love was a call, waiting for a response of life-long fidelity to God’s ways.
The gospel gives us the image of God-in-civilian Jesus, God’s Son, a man who pays his taxes even when he is not obliged to. It may be a hint for us not to ask for privileges because we are Christians and to act and live as free people, who at times – or often – choose to do what we are not obliged to do, especially in the form of help.
1 Reading: Deuteronomy 10:12-22
Moses said to the people: “And now, Israel, what does the LORD, your God, ask of you but to fear the LORD, your God, and follow his ways exactly, to love and serve the LORD, your God, with all your heart and all your soul, to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD which I enjoin on you today for your own good? Think! The heavens, even the highest heavens, belong to the LORD, your God, as well as the earth and everything on it. Yet in his love for your fathers the LORD was so attached to them as to choose you, their descendants, in preference to all other peoples, as indeed he has now done. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and be no longer stiff-necked. For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods, the LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes; who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and befriends the alien, feeding and clothing him. So you too must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. The LORD, your God, shall you fear, and him shall you serve; hold fast to him and swear by his name. He is your glory, he, your God, who has done for you those great and terrible things which your own eyes have seen. Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy people, and now the LORD, your God, has made you as numerous as the stars of the sky.”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
R. (12a) Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
he has blessed your children within you. R.
He has granted peace in your borders;
with the best of wheat he fills you.
He sends forth his command to the earth;
swiftly runs his word! R.
He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
his ordinances he has not made known to them. Alleluia. R.
Alleluia: cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:14
God has called you through the Gospel
to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Matthew 17:22-27
As Jesus and his disciples were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were overwhelmed with grief. When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Does not your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes,” he said. When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, “What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?” When he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the subjects are exempt. But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.”
It seems that we never escape the question of taxes—neither in modem or biblical times. The temple tax was imposed on all Jewish males of a certain age. Peter’s affirmative answer to his questioners clearly shows that he expected Jesus to comply with the tax law. But Jesus introduces an interesting question. Roman law drew heavily on foreigners to meet the tax debt. Evidently much less was asked of its own citizens. When it came to the temple, Jesus was a son in the Father’s house, not a foreigner. Therefore, he and his disciples were exempt from the tax. But in order to prevent scandal, he decides to comply, in a miraculous fashion.
The reign of God stands above any human government. Its authority is not divided. The state has its own duties and an income that has to be supplied by the citizenry. The temple had restorations and maintenance to be concerned with. It is obviously the beneficiaries who must pay. But for Jesus it is a secondary and irrelevant question.
Today there is much justifiable debate about the justice of taxation. There are instances when the working class carries the heaviest burden, with benefits often given to the wealthier classes. As Christians we are dutiful citizens who are willing to do our share. But justice often demands that we raise our voice in protest to elected officials when there is a disproportionate weight placed upon people who already carry too heavy a burden. The criminal billing of Nigerian electricity consumers infamously termed “Estimated bills” is a case in hand. It is fraud committed against Nigerians as the government looks on. It must be roundly condemned.
We are free sons and daughters of God and we cherish this freedom. Yet we do not want to be a clan separate from others or people seeking privileges. We want to be united with all and to serve them. May almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.