Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 22:15-21

Any talk of tax and taxation can very easily set up a polarity. Attitudes differ within our own political parties in the UK and across the world. As I walk into this scene in the Gospels I find myself trying to imagine what it would be like to live under an occupying power. Whatever I might think about taxation and the common good in regular circumstances might be different if that tax is paid to an occupying power.

We are so familiar with this Gospel scene of Jesus being confronted by the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians. Their opening words of flattery only heighten the charge of the scene: ‘Master we know that you are an honest man and teach the word of God in an honest way…’ What is at issue here is the paying of the census tax, a tax paid directly to the Emperor. This required a special coin bearing the head of the Emperor.

In both his words and his actions Jesus takes charge of the scene. By asking them to show him a coin they reveal that they are carrying the coin themselves. He then turns their question back on them. These are both masterful moves. Some commentators will see in this scene the justification for the separation of Church and state. I don’t see it like this. I see rather that Jesus is showing that it is God’s power that reigns supreme and not the Emperor’s. The silver denarius might bear the Emperor’s image, but we are made in God’s own image. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God and our currency is love.

How can you use God’s currency of love this week?