The coin in today’s gospel passage—the coin which Jesus used to respond to the “trick question” which had been put to him—reminded me of the first reading’s closing passage, in which Tobit’s wife, Anna, challenges him for being “two-faced”.
Tobit has been introduced to us as a generous and pious person, faithful to the covenant even though his family had splintered from the Jerusalem Temple. Following the exile into Assyria, he continued his virtuous practices, especially the burial of the dead. This practice ultimately leads to his becoming a fugitive until the untimely death of the king, Sennacherib, makes possible his re-establishing his family life in Nineveh.
Following his misfortune that leads to blindness, Tobit seems to change, he seems to lose his pious and charitable attitude. When he rashly judges that his wife, Anna, has brought home a stolen goat, he refuses to keep it and demands that she return it to its owner. Anna then rebukes him, and asks what became of his pious nature; perhaps this is his real character now being displayed.
I think all of us can relate to Tobit’s response. We go through our life’s duties trying to be faithful to our Catholic way of life. We make efforts, consciously, to do the right thing. Eventually, all of us will come to the crisis that unleashes a run of words, throws up a wall of silence, or sharpens the biting rebuke that is not at all our “best self”.
Anna accuses her husband of being hypocritical, of finally revealing his true “side”. We are probably not surprised at Anna’s behavior; she has been hurt by the refusal of Tobit to accept her explanation that the goat was a “bonus” for a job well-done. Perhaps Tobit’s doubts are being interpreted by Anna as doubts about the quality of her work, implying that no one would give her a bonus for her work.
Let us bring Jesus into our reflection. We know from today’s gospel passage that Jesus was quite adept at turning his accusers’ traps and plots back on themselves. Jesus knew human nature, our shared human nature, and it is the reason that Jesus can be compassionate with us. As we will discover in the continuation of this reading, tomorrow, the compassion of Jesus flows as healing balm into our hearts when we repent, when we recognize the wrong we have done, and ask forgiveness, seek reconciliation with God and with those whom we have offended.
The two sides of a coin can always remind us that our human nature is flawed but redeemed. Which side of the coin of our personhood will we offer to Jesus and to our neighbor?
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P. is the director of the Missions for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.