Lectio: Mark 12:13-17
1) Opening prayer
Your love never fails.
Hear our call.
Keep us from danger
and provide for all our needs.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Mark 12:13-17
Some Pharisees and Herodians were sent to Jesus to ensnare him in his speech. They came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you are not concerned with anyone's opinion. You do not regard a person's status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not pay?" Knowing their hypocrisy he said to them, "Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to look at." They brought one to him and he said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They replied to him, "Caesar's." So Jesus said to them, "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." They were utterly amazed at him.
• In today’s Gospel, the confrontation between Jesus and the authorities continues. The priests and the scribes had been criticized and denounced by Jesus in the parable of the vineyard (Mk 12:1-12). Now, they themselves ask the Pharisees and the Herodians to set up a trap for Jesus in order to be able to condemn Him. They ask questions to Jesus concerning the taxes to be paid to the Romans. This was a controversial theme which divided public opinion. The enemies of Jesus want, at all cost, to accuse Him and diminish the influence that He had on the people. Groups which before were enemies, now get together to fight against Jesus. This also happens today. Many times, people or groups, enemies among themselves, get together to defend their privileges against those who embarrass them with the announcement of truth and of justice.
• Mark 12:13-14: The question of the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Pharisees and the Herodians were the local leaders in the villages of Galilee. It was a long time since they had decided to kill Jesus (Mk 3:6). Now, because of the order of the priests and of the elders, they want to know whether Jesus is in favor or against the payment of taxes to the Romans and to Caesar. It’s an underhanded and sly question, full of malice! Under the appearance of fidelity to the Law of God, they look for reasons in order to be able to accuse Him. If Jesus says “You should pay!” they could accuse Him of being a friend of the Romans. If He were to say, “No, you do not have to pay!” they could accuse Him of being subversive to the authority of the Romans. This seemed to be a dead end!
• Mark 12:15-17: Jesus’ answer. Jesus perceives their hypocrisy. In His response He does not lose time in useless discussion, and goes straight to the heart of the question. Instead of responding and discussing the affair of the tribute to Caesar, He asks to be shown a coin and He asks, “Whose portrait and inscription is this?” They answered, “Caesar’s!” The answer of Jesus: “Then pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” In practice, they already recognized the authority of Caesar. They were already giving to Caesar what belonged to Caesar, because they used his currency to buy and sell and even to pay the taxes of the Temple! What interested Jesus was that they should “give to God what belongs to God!” That is, they restitute the people to God, which, because of their teaching, they blocked the entrance into the Kingdom (Mk 23:13). Others explained this sentence of Jesus in another way: “Give to God what belongs to God!”. That is, practice justice and honesty as the law of God demands, because your hypocrisy denies God what is due to Him.
• Taxes, tributes, taxes and denarii. In Jesus’ time, the people of Palestine paid many taxes, tributes, including one tenth of their income, both to the Romans as well as to the temple. The Roman Empire had invaded Palestine in the year 63 AD and they imposed many taxes and tributes. According to the estimates made, half or even more of the family salaries were used to pay the tributes, taxes and the tenth of their income. The taxes which the Romans demanded were of two types: direct and indirect.
a) The Direct Tax was on property and on persons. The tax on property (tributum soli): the fiscal officers of the government verified how large the property was, the production and the number of slaves and they fixed the amount to be paid. Periodically, there was a verification through the census. The tax on persons (tributum capitis): was for the poor class who owned no land. This included both men and women, between 12 and 65 years of age.
b) The Indirect Tax was placed on transactions of different types: a crown of gold: originally, it was a gift to the Emperor, but then it became an obligatory tax. This was paid on special occasions, for example, the feast and the visits of the Emperor. The tax on salt: the salt was the monopoly of the Emperor. It was necessary to pay the tribute on salt for commercial use, as in the salt used by fishermen to dry up the fish and to sell it. From this comes the word “salary.” A tax on buying and selling: this money was paid to the fiscal officers during the holidays. A tax when a slave was bought, in every registered commercial contract, for exercising a profession: there was need for everyone to have a license for everything. Even the prostitutes had to pay. A tax for the use of public utilities: Emperor Vespasian introduced the tax on the use of the public toilets in Rome. He would say: “Money does not stink!”
c) Other taxes and obligations, toll or customs, forced work; special expenses for the army (to give hospitality to the soldiers; to pay for the food of the troops), taxes for the Temple and the worship.
4) Personal questions
• Do you know of a case where groups of people who were enemies between themselves, but who were then united to oppose a person who bothered or inconvenienced and denounced them? Has this happened at any time with you?
• What is the meaning of this sentence today: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God?”
• How have you handled hypocrites in your life, either publicly as a group or in private?
• Have you been hypocritical to others? How do you guard against this?
5) Concluding Prayer
Each morning fill us with Your faithful love,
we shall sing and be happy all our days;
Show Your servants the deeds You do,
let their children enjoy Your splendor! (Ps 90:14:16)