We feel embarrassed when, in their candor, kids reveal some truths about ourselves that we had tried to keep secret; but we might fill with outright hatred if the one removing our mask is a grownup. In the Gospel of Matthew (22:15-21), this is what happened to the Pharisees. Repeatedly, Jesus had unmasked their hypocrisy. For that, they must have hated him to the point of joining forces with their enemies, the Herodians, in order to destroy him.
Since the early days of the Roman occupation of Palestine, the Jews age 12-65 had to pay a census tax equivalent to a daily wage. The tax had to be paid in Roman currency, the denarius which had the effigy of the emperor Tiberius and the following inscription: iberius Caesar divi Augusti filius. Augustus Pontifex Maximus (the supreme bridge-builder between heaven and earth). All about this coin was hateful and blasphemous to pious Jews.
The Pharisees prided themselves in a strict observance of the Torah. They knew that Yahweh God forbade absolutely the carrying of an image of any god. And He had also decreed that one of Aaron’s descendants alone could be the High Priest. But here they were forced to pay this tax with a coin which had the image of a man that claimed to be both god and the supreme high priest (bridge-builder) of the Roman pagan world of deities.
The Pharisees were against paying this tax for two reasons. The Torah forbade the carrying of this pagan coin for the aforementioned reason; and they were fierce nationalists. Furthermore, they did not want to part with their hard-earned money which they loved.
The Herodians, instead, were “brown-noses” and grateful to the Romans for keeping Herod in power, as a sort of royal figure. Hence, they were in favor of paying that tax. So imagine how much the Pharisees must have hated Jesus in order to put their differences aside and join forces with the Herodians.
The trap was seemingly fool proof. Jesus would have been doomed either way: as a Roman sympathizer or as a subversive rebel. We can’t but admire Jesus’ dexterity in escaping the deadly trap! But, at the same time, we should wonder why the Church is recalling this incident for our consideration.
Jesus is not concerned with the separation of Church and state; but, rather, with consistency, transparency, integrity and the absolute supremacy of God above everyone and everything.
The Pharisees were shamefaced and exposed by Jesus in all their hypocrisy because, while they claimed strict compliance with the Torah, habitually, they carried around the Roman currency, never minding its blasphemous nature and the compromises that such habit entailed. They also enjoyed the financial stability made possible by the Roman currency and enjoyed all the benefits and perks provided by the Romans.
For all these reasons, Jesus felt that they should have given to Caesar what was due to him.
The same has to be true for us. We should pay our share of taxes for all the benefits and the security that our Government provides. But we should be painfully aware that we cannot afford compromises in order to balance our loyalty to God with what our Government demands.
God is the Creator of everyone and everything. All people and all things belong to Him. To Him alone we owe honor and praise, glory and loyalty. Therefore, while we can expect, by right, to be protected, well-cared-for and well-provided-for by a stable and sound Government, we are called to side with God whenever our Government breaks God’s law.
The first examples that come to my mind are these: forcing taxpayers to pay for abortions, for sex-change surgery, for contraceptives and other immoral procedures; depriving citizens of their first Amendment rights; indoctrination of students through Marxist ideology and secularistic curricula in public colleges; open disdain for patriotism; the teaching of sexual mores that are simply abhorrent; the undermining of the traditional family unit and the usurpation by the state of parents rights over their children, etc.
Alas, the list is getting longer with every passing day.
How can we fight against all these unfair impositions, especially now that we might be nearing times of unparalleled trials? We love our Lord. We want to be loyal to Him above anyone and anything else. But we have a family; we have a job to keep… Up to now there is only so much we are ready to sacrifice and to endure for the Lord and for his Church.
My fellow frail citizen of both heaven and earth, God knows that we are weak; He has the accurate reading of the intensity of our love for Him and of our desire to abide by His laws. Therefore, we should at least live with the tension and the heavy burden of our timidity. We ought to fast, pray and offer up inconveniences and hardships to wrest God’s favors. And we should use all legal means to redress the wrongs of our society.
It is amazing how early in life we have learned to distinguish a Jackson from a Grant, and a Franklin. We know instinctively that a pile of those images on American bills provides us with financial security and many of the good things in life.
But, today, Jesus invites us to grow richer in the sight of God by recognizing any image of Him and by honoring Him.
We could say that God is reigning supreme in our life only when we can find our eternal security in recognizing and serving Him in those who carry His image: those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, ill, or in prison in areas close to us and also in mission lands.
Today is World Mission Sunday. It presents a steep challenge to our faith as we should impress in our minds and hearts the suffering images of our brothers and sisters in mission lands. Only our ability to recognize the image of God in the less fortunate will make up for our weakness, disloyalties and compromises; and reassure us that whatever we will do to the least of them we will do to Christ himself.