Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
The Gospel reading for today is written by a professional who understood perfectly what was going on, Matthew the tax collector! The differences between the Pharisees and the Herodians of the day were far more antagonistic and volatile than the conflicts between our political parties of recent times. Their positions were intensified by the occupation by Rome. The Pharisees were religious conservatives who wanted to preserve the status quo in religious customs and values. The Herodians were committed to another status quo that had come into existence through the Roman treaties with King Herod and his father before him. One rigidly protected what they had inherited by ritual and prayer. The other fiercely guarded what they had purchased by involvement in the Empire.
Both the Pharisees and the Herodians were afraid of Jesus because He stood as the Compassion of God for the people of Israel as well as the many foreigners with whom He had contact during His lifetime and public ministry. On this day neither of them wanted Jesus to survive unless He was willing to play by their rules and somehow justify the
convenience of their lifestyles.. It was unbearable that His teaching called everyone to task in one way or another. Pay the Roman Tax and be hated by the Zealots. Refuse to pay the Tax and be ultimately destroyed by the Power of Rome. He was surrounded by people who were willing to sacrifice Jesus rather than make any sacrifices themselves!
Most of us today would agree that both "taxes" are necessary. The "Temple Tax" of yesteryear or "Tithe" of today help the churches continue to be a focal point for the community of faith in their prayer and in their ministry. The current civil taxes help provide the services necessary to support the needs and protect the lives of our people especially in difficult times. Jesus stands in the middle and calls both to be sure and remain focused on their real purpose "to bring the Compassion of God to the people". Don’t we find in scripture the equivalent of "We repay God by doing what we can for the most challenged of the brethren (the people of God)!
Fr. John Patrick, Day, C.P. is pastor of Holy Martyrs of Japan Parish, Sullivan, Missouri.