Practising the law of love
Posted: Wed, 14 Oct 2020 15:51
The Gospel for 29th Sunday of the year tells us of the challenges Jesus faced from those trying to entrap and destroy him, Fr Gerry O'Shaughessy SDB offers a reflection on how we can be good citizens, practising Jesus' law of love. (Matthew 22: 15 - 21)
This week we see the Pharisees withdrawing from their discussion with Jesus. However, they still want to torment him and send their 'disciples' to challenge him instead. It reminds me of the bully who gets their blind followers to step into their shoes and continue the cycle of violence and hurt. One thing I ask of you: please, never use your position or your perceived 'power' to bully others. Victims often cannot speak out for themselves so if you see a bully, will you have the strength and courage to stand up to them and break that cycle?
Some months ago a younger parishioner spoke to me about the newer form of bullying that can come to us 'online.' Cyber-bullying is a reality for many of young people especially and it so subtle: you may not get a black eye, but, as I discovered from my young friend, your confidence is undermined through spreading rumours and being ignored. You might counter that that is hardly groundbreaking but, to a teenager in need of friendship and assurance, it can mean everything. Please stop the curse of bullying and never, ever be tempted to be the bully. From my professional and personal life, I have seen and experienced the horrors of bullying; it is not enough to glibly say, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!" Bullying is not acceptable in the Christian family—bullying, from whatever lofty and influential source, is not acceptable in the world family.
Rant over, so we need to return to the Gospel! The ministry of Jesus is to unify but Mark's Gospel tells us clearly
The Pharisees went out, and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against Him, how to destroy Him. (Mk 3: 26)
The challenging words and actions of Jesus UNIFY these strange bedfellows. Pharisees and Herodians do not go together. The two parties are essentially different from each other, archenemies even. The one party rivals the other, and normally they would not be on speaking terms. Yet, here they are holding counsel together! They are standing up to the one they see as a rebel: they are standing up to the itinerant preacher from Galilee who inspires, challenges, heals, forgives and listens. They cannot cope with the vision of unity that Jesus offers, despite having to unite themselves. It is so true: there are no so blind as those who cannot see (see Jer 5: 21).
The hypocrisy of that unholy alliance is seen in the question they ask Jesus. It is not a probing examination of Hebrew Scripture or a theological examination of the Temple structure; rather they ask about the legitimacy of Roman taxes. Actually this is quite priceless given that the Pharisees and Herodians have opposing views about the payment to the army of occupation. Do you see how the "entrapment" is craftily engineered? If Jesus says that it is not allowed to pay the tax, the Herodians have reason to report Him to the governor as a rebel who is inciting the people to riot. If Jesus says that the tax should be paid, the Pharisees can triumphantly expose Him to the people as a traitor to the Jewish cause! The question was asked publicly in the temple, and either way, Jesus indeed seems trapped.
Jesus tackles the dilemma in a way that diffuses the argument simply and abruptly. He asks to see a denarius, the accepted currency of the day-it is the coin that the people of occupied Palestine had to use in their daily life. Just as we swipe our credit cards at Tesco or Aldi, so Jesus and his fellow citizens used the denarius in their daily financial dealings.
We might object to paying taxes and different nations have different taxation systems, but the UK taxation system pays for the NHS that we have had to rely heavily on in these past few months: their bravery and selfless dedication is funded through taxation, along with education and highways, for example. In paying the Roman Tax, Jesus recognises that even an army of occupation can bring certain benefits. I'm reminded of the famous Monty Python sketch that those of a certain vintage will remember: WHAT HAVE THE ROMANS EVER DONE FOR US?
As Christians we have a duty to the society in which we live; in our modern British society we can peacefully demonstrate and condemn things we disagree with-even if it is mandated by law. However difficult and hard it might be at times, we are called to live in this society and enjoy the freedoms that this society gives us, even at the personal cost of paying taxes. However and more importantly, as Christians we have that duty to respect and try our best to carry out the law of God too. A law that is based on love: the ministry and words of Jesus make real that love for us. Our challenge this week is to ensure that the law of love is practiced and shared to the very best of our ability. We are familiar with tax audits; how would I do if there was an audit of my faith? Actually it is there in the Parable of the LAST JUDGEMENT: we will be audited quite simply on how we treat others!1 Scripture tells us that we are ALL made in the IMAGE of God (see Gen. 1: 27); what right has anyone got to tarnish that image? Make bullying history as we all strive this week to support each other. As Pope Francis reminds us, we all have a value and it is far greater than any credit card or Roman coin:
Every human person, created in God's image and likeness, is a value unto themselves and is subject to inalienable rights
Pope Francis, 10th December 2018