Lectio Divina

Tuesday - Ordinary Time

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

Next, the priests, the scribes and the elders sent to Jesus some Pharisees and some Herodians to catch him out in what he said. These came and said to him, 'Master, we know that you are an honest man, that you are not afraid of anyone, because human rank means nothing to you, and that you teach the way of God in all honesty. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or not?' Recognising their hypocrisy he said to them, 'Why are you putting me to the test? Hand me a denarius and let me see it.'
They handed him one and he said to them, 'Whose portrait is this? Whose title?' They said to him, 'Caesar's.' Jesus said to them, 'Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar -- and God what belongs to God.' And they were amazed at him.

3) Reflection

• In today’s Gospel, the confrontation between Jesus and the authority 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 against Jesus 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 costs, to accuse him and diminish the influence that he had on the people. Groups, which before were enemies between them, now get together to fight against Jesus. This also happens today. Many times, persons or groups, enemies among themselves, get together to defend their privileges against those who inconvenience 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 if Jesus is in favour or against the payment of taxes to the Romans, to Caesar. An underhanded or 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 would say: “No, you do not have to pay!”, they could accuse him to the authority of the Romans that he was subversive. This seemed to be a dead alley!
• 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 centre of the question. Instead of responding and of 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, his money to buy and to sell and even to pay the taxes of the Temple! That which interested Jesus was that they “gave to God what belongs to God!, that is, that they restituite the people to God, from their deviation, because with their teaching they blocked the entrance into the Kingdom (Mk 23,13). Others explained this phrase 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 to God what is due to him. The disciples have to be aware!
• Taxes, tributes, taxes and denarii. “In Jesus’ time, the people of Palestine paid many taxes, tributes and the tenth part of their income, both to the Romans as well as to the Temple. The Roman Empire had invades Palestine in the year 63 A.D. 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 part 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. It was a tax on the force of work; 20% of the income of every person was used to pay taxes.
b) The Indirect tax was placed on transactions of different types: a Crown of gold: Originally, it was a question of 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 the salt for commercial use. For example, 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: for every commercial use 1% was paid. This money was paid to the fiscal officers during the holidays. When a slave was bought they demanded 4%. In every registered commercial contract, they demanded 2%. The tax for exercising a profession: There was need for everyone to have a license for everything. For example, a cobbler in the city of Palmira paid one denarius a month. A denarius was equivalent to the salary of one day. And even the prostitutes had to pay. A tax for the use of public utilities: Emperor Vespasiano introduced the tax in order to be able to use 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 some case of groups or of persons who were enemies between themselves, but who were then united to follow an honest person who bothered or inconvenienced and denounced them? Has this happened some times with you?
• What is the sense of this phrase today: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”?

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 splendour! (Ps 90:14,16)


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Last revised: 23 May 2008