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October 16, 1987     The Message
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October 16, 1987

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October 16, 1987 Commentary I I I i i ii Mass Readings By FATHER DONALD DILGER The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana Gospel deals with the question 'Is it lawful to pay taxes or not?' 5 Gospel Commentary for Sunday, Oct. 18, 1987 Matthew 22:15.21 -- On Paying Taxes In the Gospels of the preceeding three Sundays Matthew has given us the three parables -- The Great Banquet, The Vineyard, The Two Sons. In his arrangement of these parables he has directed them specifically at the Jewish leadership of the time of Jesus and of his own time. Jesus scored high points in the parables against his opponents and has done most of the talking. Now Matthew sets up a scheme in which the enemies of Jesus are given an opportunity to speak. They very likely represent the opposition to the Christian Church in Matthew's time -- the eighties of the first century. This also gives Matthew an opportunity to treat problems and questions his own Christians had, such as the paying of taxes, questions about the final resurrection, and the importance or non- importance of certain commandments. Before going on to the text of Matthew, we take a glance at the Old Testament. The person and the words of Jeremiah had great influence on the formation of the written gospel and on how the evangelists presented the figure of Jesus in the gospels. We detect the influence of Jeremiah 18:18 on this section of the gospel. There we read: "Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah. (Without him} the priest will (still} not run short of instruction, nor the wise man run short of advice, nor the prophet be without the word. Let's hit at him with his own words..." In other words, the established religion could function better without the prophet. Notice that there are three classes of leaders mentioned in the quote from Jeremiah. In the gospel there are also three classes of leaders who now approach Jesus with questions to trap him. The first of these will be the Pharisees accom- panied by the Herodians. The Pharisees were strict observers not only of the Law of Moses but also of all the traditions which had grown up around the Law. They had elevated these oral traditions to the same degree of authority as the Law itself. They kept themselves from association with non- Pharisees who were considered unclean. Even more they would reject anything foreign, heathen, or Gentile. To pay tribute or taxes to a Gentile overlord, the Roman emperor, was particularly galling to them. The Herodians were hangers-on of the Herod family who had ruled Palestine as pup- pets of the Romans since the time of Herod the Great who became king, by Roman power, in 37 B.C., and was ruling at the time of the birth of Jesus. Matthew pins on Herod the Great respon- sibility for the deaf of the Innocents (Matt. 2). The Herod who ruled as tetrarch of Galilee during the public ministry of Jesus was Herod Antipas. He is the Herod who figures in the Passion account of Luke 23. It is clear that the Herodians had no pro- blem about paying taxes to Caesar. Thus the two opposite groups unite to try to set up Jesus with a trick question. If Jesus takes the side of the Pharisees who were opposed to foreign taxation he would offend the Herodians and make himself liable to arrest for sedition. If he takes the side of the Herodians the Pharisees could discredit him before the Jewish people. The two sides approach him with deceitful flattery which Matthew quickly thrusts aside with the observation that Jesus was aware of their malice. In response to the question Jesus asks for the coin used to pay the tribute or tax. The Greek text tells us it was a denarius. This was a Roman silver coin with the image of a woman depicting peace on one side. On the reverse side was an im- age of the Roman emperor, Tiberius, who ruled from 14 to 37 A.D. The coin was also inscribed with the words "Pontifex Maximus" a title of the pagan Roman emperors which was later assumed, strange to say, by the popes. In the time of Jesus one denarius wa the ordinary daily wage of a laborer. The answer Jesus gives evades rather than answers the question. He simply admits the de fac- to existence of the power of Caesar as he also does in John 19:11 in words spoken to Pilate: "You would have no power over me unless it were given you from above." St. Paul is more direct about telling his Christians to "pay taxes to whom taxes are due." (Romans 13:7) Matthew may be telling his Christian community that it is acceptable to pay taxes. He has already handled a similar ques- tion in 17:24-27. There the collectors of the Tem- ple tax ask Peter if his master pays the tax. Peter in turn asks Jesus. Jesus gives Peter the order to pay it and states the principle: " that we don't give offense to them...give it to them for me and for yourself." The reader may check Matthew 17:27 for the amusing and amazing way in which Peter acquired the money for the tax. What we can probably conclude from this gospel reading is that the early Christians also had a conscience problem about paying taxes. Matthew seems to leave it up to the individual. This is not so different from the situation we have in our own day. There are Christians whose conscience does not let them pay taxes. The saintly bishop of Seat- tle, Wash., has withheld part of his taxes as a pro- test against runaway military spending and the production of weapons that can destroy all civiliza- tion. Following such a line of action a person helps pay for all the wonderful benefits that we receive as citizens of this great nation while, on the other hand, protests the production of weapons which he cannot in conscience support. The ques- tion of the enemies of Jesus which Matthew uses to teach his Christians is a question as important to- day as it was in the first century: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not." Other readings for Oct. 18: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; I Thessalonians 1:1.5 II I I Vatican Letter The Synod: a study in Catholicism's diversity I I I: By GREG ERLANDSON NC News Service VATICAN CITY (NC) -- Eastern-rite patriarchs in crim- son robes and exotic head- dresses stroll across St. Peter's Square. As brown-, black- and white- skinned bishops and cardinals leave the synod hall for lunch, their diversity is a testimony to the international scope of the Synod of Bishops. Even in the age of television and a globe-trotting pope, rare- ly is the catholicity of this church so displayed. But the internationalism of the synod is not simply a photo opportunity for passing tourists; it is also an important ingredient of what takes place inside the synod hall. This was particularly true during the monthlong synod's first two weeks, when every bishop was allowed to speak for a maximum of eight minutes during the twice-daily general assemblies. After almost two weeks, more issues had been raised than could ever he specifically ad- dressed in a final document. The exploitation of ,,omen and of workers in the Third World, the value of African philosophy, the constant ten- sions Christian minorities live with in Moslem-dominated cultures, and the importance of lay catechists and teachers in mission lands were just a few. This period might be the hardest for the synod delegates, joked the s,nod secretary general, Archbishop Jan Schotte, because it's not easy for them to sit listening for so long. But this is when the synod fathers "discover the universal dimension of the church and the synod theme as well," the archbishop said. The number of speeches delegates hear daily is daunt- ing: 30 or more. Taken together, they paint a portrait of lay life and church concerns from around the world and in a variety of circumstances. Most dramatic are testimonies from churches "caught in the cross fire be- tween oppressor and liberator," as South African Bishop Wilfred F. Napier described the situation in his country. NOT EVERY church faces such extreme situations as in South Africa or in the Philip- pines, where Cardinal Jaime Sin said the separation of religion and pol.tics would be "unthinkable." Tanzanian Bishop Polycarp Pengo said lay Catholic profes- sionals in his country have their hands full waging a day-to-day struggle against "corruption, bribery and irresponsibility in government offices" and organizations. The synod's diversity points to the widely different positions local bishops take on such issues as the role of movements in the church or the need for lay ministries. While greater institutional in- volvement by lay men and women is a concern of many U.S. and European church leaders, Bishop Pengo said Tan- zanian laity do not have time to "fight their way into the sacris- ty either to seek employment or to express their Catholic identi- ty." "As long as clerics and Religious are there," he said, lay people "are happy to find time for the evangelization of politics, economy and society." Farther to the north, in Chad, the church has found the lack of priests in those sacristies a positive experience. After chronicling the ravages of his country's war and drought, which often resulted in the exclusion of foreign priests and Religious, Chadian Bishop Gabriel Balet said the , result was a greater sense of responsibility by the laity. "Happy declericalization!" he concluded. Even when a bishop shares the concerns of many other delegates, his local experience is a reminder of just how diverse this universal church can be. Archbishop Peter P. Dery of Ghana joined other bishops in seeking to preserve and defend the "dignity, freedom and the rights of women." But in his country the urgent need was to "reject and discourage the mar- riage dowry system" as a re- quisite for Christian marriage. For /krgentine delegate Car- dinal R, aul Francisco Primatesta, concern for the role of women in the church is well and good, but he asked the synod not to forget the role of men. He said that "men cannot remain in silence, waiting out- side the church doors, listening passively." Of course, international gatherings show cultural dif- ferences as well. EASTERN-RITE patriarchs who long have had to stand in the shadows of their Latin-rite brothers did not miss many chances to note that the "Orien- tal churches" have a long history of lay involvement, unlike the "more modest role" in the Latin rite, as one arch- bishop put it. The Syro-Malabarese bishop from India not only boasted of the "predominance" of the lai- ty in his church, hut reminded the synod that men and women in his rite had been admitted to the diaconate. Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah P. Sfeir noted the "always possible accession of married men and fathers" to the priesthood in the East. When the delegates go to small working groups and begin to identify and develop certain dominant themes and concerns, the rich variety of voices may not be as clearly heard as during the synod's first two weeks. But the lingering echo of these voices will remind the bishops that they are not simply crafting a pastoral recommen- dation for one diocese, or even one continent. Any final state- ment on the mission and voca- tion of the laity must speak to a church that stretches from that Argentine church portal to a bridal chamber in Ghana.