Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tuesday in the 9th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Surprise in the One Box

Readings: Tobit 2:9-14
; Psalm 112:1-2, 7-8, 9
; Mark 12:13-17
This reply took them completely by surprise.

As we listen to this well-known passage from Mark’s gospel, perhaps it’ll be fruitful for us to focus our attention first on the surprise of Jesus’ interrogators. It’s not too difficult to figure out the reason for their reaction. Theirs was a very cunning question, one that gave them confidence that they had put Jesus in a tight spot from which there was no escape. It seemed our Lord was caught on the horns of a dilemma. He had only two choices: to say either that it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or that it was not. And either option would have serious, perhaps even fatal, consequences for Jesus. How then did Jesus slip so easily, even effortlessly, out of their trap?

For the Pharisees and Herodians, it would seem that there were, as it were, two boxes. One was marked Caesar and the other was marked self. You could only choose one or the other in which to put your money. And isn’t this one key characteristic of all difficult questions, especially practical, moral and political questions? At this level, there often seem to be two or more boxes among which one has to choose. And to choose one is often to have to forsake another – to deposit a ten-dollar bill in the bank is to be unable to place it in the collection box in church – with often unpleasant consequences for self and for others. How to choose well?

More than simply telling us to continue carefully separating our possessions, our time and our loyalties between different boxes, between Caesar and God, between State and Church, between secular and religious, between material and spiritual, Jesus’ response is surprising because it breaks through our dilemmas by bringing us to another level of reflection. While it may be true that at the level of the practical there are so many boxes to choose from, isn’t it true that at the level of the heart, everything belongs to God? What do we have that does not come ultimately from God? That does not bear the imprint of God’s handiwork? Are we ourselves not made in God’s image and likeness?

Isn’t it the case then that it is only when we are reconciled to this truth, when our hearts our centred on God alone, that we are able gracefully to negotiate the difficult decisions that confront us in daily living? Don’t we see this in the ongoing story of Tobit? Blinded by unfortunate circumstances, ostracized by his own people, finding it difficult even to make ends meet, Tobit continues to be careful not to accept goods that might rightfully belong to someone else. Blind though he is, he is able to discern clearly the appropriate box in which to place the things that come his way. That he can do this on a practical level is a clear sign that in his heart there is only one box in which everything belongs to God. Again, the response to the psalm describes his situation accurately: with a firm heart he trusts in the Lord.

In our hearts how many boxes have we? How is Jesus’ response surprising us today?

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