Scripture: Lectionary 354. June 4, 2013. Tobit 2:9-14. Psalm 112: 1-2.7-8.9. Mark 12:13-17
Are you aware that Mark is the Evangelist who presents Jesus as one who asks many questions to his disciples and also offsets many of his opponents who try to trick him with their questions by stumping them with a question that stops them in their tracks. They tell me the Irish have a way of doing this. Jesus was Jewish!
The question Jesus asks today is, “Whose image is on this coin? And whose inscription?” By taking a Roman coin he is able to pry the answer from his opponents who successfully answer this question. Does the question make any sense to us today in our circumstances of daily life and our culture?
Two among the many groups in the land of Israel raise their question: “Is it lawful to pay the tax to the emperor or not? Are we to pay or not?” The Herodians and Pharisees are together in their question posed to Jesus. They represent the group favorable to Rome (Herodians) and the true followers of the Mosaic covenant (the Pharisees). Mark tells us they were trying to trap Jesus with their question(s). Jesus asks them to bring him a coin that he may look at it. It is a Roman coin and was the coin used to pay the taxes demanded by the Romans.
Does the question strike us as a form of separation of power and religion? The Romans had the power to exact taxation of the oppressed ones. Religion often was all some of the oppressed could fall back on to wrestle with the question. Jesus who is a very practical wise and holy person asks his questions to set up his opportunity to teach them a lesson. He clears their attempt to trick him by facing the reality of the situation that his people face each day. They could not overcome the military power and the stern control the Romans had over their lives. In taking the coin he asks this simple question, “Whose head is this and whose inscription is it?” The opponents give the correct answer, the coin has an image of Caesar upon it (Augustus) . Therefore, Jesus prudently and clearly states, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s.” Again his practical wisdom pierces through their dilemma and their vested interests in trying to trick Jesus into something that would put him in jeopardy with either the State or Religion.
If we stop and think about the past week, we probably were put in such a situation in our own dealings with others, or our own thoughts about religion, taxes, separation of church and state, prayer in schools, etc. We, too, can learn from the incident in today’s Gospel to give serious thought to issues that effect life, morality, and good traditions. We need the practical wisdom that Jesus has; we need to discern with the Spirit while reading the signs of the times. On further reflection, are we more like those who are trying to trap others with our questions, or are we more like Jesus in facing the real situations of our life while finding through prayer and reason the best answer?
Copyright 2013 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.