Sunday, 19 October 2008

Money, money,money

Matthew 22:15 - 21
Then the Pharisees went away to work out between them how to trap him in what he said. And they sent their disciples to him, together with the Herodians, to say, ‘Master, we know that you are an honest man and teach the way of God in an honest way, and that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you. Tell us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus was aware of their malice and replied, ‘You hypocrites! Why do you set this trap for me? Let me see the money you pay the tax with.’ They handed him a denarius, and he said, ‘Whose head is this? Whose name?’ ‘Caesar’s’ they replied. He then said to them, ‘Very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’

Well, it's good to know that Jesus knew a back-handed compliment when he heard one; and a trick question when it's posed.

There's quite a bit to be aware of when you are talking money in the Gospel. And from my own limited knowledge there are a few particular things to know here:

We know that Israel is part of the Roman Empire at this point, they are not there by invitation. Rome took Rome with her as she occupied countries and so the currency, in every country became Roman. The head of Caesar, a daily reminder for every citizen of every land.

We know that Rome funds the Empire by taxing those she has overthrown, and clever as she is, the tax collectors are recruited from local stock. Immediately branded collaborators they are outcast from society and the temple; in it for the money they charge above and beyond what they pay to Rome to pay themselves. Tax collectors lived every day knowing that they have made the choice between God and Caesar.

But is the Temple any better? In their show of desire to be 'pure', Caesar's coin is not allowed in the Temple, can't be used to buy sacrifice or given in tithe. It has to be exchanged for Temple money. And, of course, exchange comes with commission - these are the money men that Jesus rants over at the entrance to the Temple - yet another barrier between God and the poor.

So, back to the taxes; do you think it would be a good idea to not pay what you owe? Given that not paying would mean interest being heaped upon the debt until it meant giving up your business, your home and selling you and your family into service? - No.
What do you think Rome would think of a person suddenly raising himself above the teaching of the Torah to advocate what is basically rebellion? Certainly, some of the zealots, the freedom fighters, must have secretly wished Jesus would call for taxes not to be paid; what a way to start a war! But realistically it would have been the end there and then. And it wasn't the right time and it wasn't the right reason.

Jesus looks at the coin, at the worldly insecurity that makes a man, a ruler, a God-king need to have his image impressed on pieces of metal and sees it for what it is - stuff. Nothing God wants, nothing that feeds the spirit, that tends the soul.

He looks at the Pharisees and others waiting for an answer - waiting to spring the trap - God or Caesar - either answer will give them ammunition against him.

Jesus tells them - pay the taxes; if it's what this man wants, if it keeps you out of slavery - and pay it without resentment or feeling belittled; it is not what life is about.

What belongs to God is more important. You, your love, your love for each other, your happiness.

Simple really, except even now, we put stuff above God. Our need to have our own heads stamped on the trappings of success - my car, my house, my plasma screen, my place in the sun. And then we forget that money is just a tool; we have other responsiblities; we have neighbours.

No-one should be so poor that they cannot eat, or have a place to sleep or a roof over their heads. We know this, the Church knows this, society knows this and many people to try to fight the scandals that still exists.

Tell me, how rich should you be? Perhaps just rich enough to look God in the face and still be able to smile?


1 comment:

Bea said...

Mairie, your blog feels like a devotional... and it's well written, teaching the Gospel and making it clear. Do you teach Sunday school or preach in your church? You must be a teacher of some kind. As always, I enjoy reading your blog. I'm glad you made it here without too much trauma.