Politic versus Faith
When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes, he does.” (Matthew 17:22-27)
In any election season, we are confronted with two contrasting temptations. One is the temptation toward political idolatry: the idea that a particular candidate or political ideology will right all the wrongs of our fallen world. The other temptation, perhaps more acute than usual this year, is to become so disgusted with the whole process that we disengage from political life altogether.
Today’s Gospel proclaims a middle road that avoids both extremes. Jesus replies to a question about taxation by drawing attention to the elevated status of not only himself, but of Peter as well: they are “children,” that is, children of God. As such, Jesus and Peter are free from any obligation to pay the temple tax.
Nevertheless, Jesus recognizes that failing to pay the tax will result in scandal. As members of human communities, we have a duty to consider how our actions will affect those around us. In this case, Jesus chooses to pay the tax to avoid giving offense rather than standing on his rights as the Son of God.
While this passage describes Jesus’ response to a specific situation, early Christian interpreters understood the story as teaching a general lesson about Christians’ relation to civil affairs. As Paul reminds us, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). Our first allegiance is to Christ, and it is Christ alone who is the savior of the world. At the same time, Paul also tells us to “pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due” (Romans 13:7). Our status as children of God does not eliminate our civic duties, even if it puts them in a new perspective.
Let us pray for a proper perspective on political affairs, and also that the God who can bring a silver coin from the mouth of a bottom-feeding fish might bring about good from the upcoming election.
Prayer for Today
Eternal God, you reveal the mysteries of the kingdom to those who put their faith in your promise of salvation. As we await the coming of your Son in glory, raise up men and women to bring your message of hope to a waiting world. Instill in us an unshakable trust in your divine providence and a zeal for ministry that will inspire your people to a deeper confidence in your saving power. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.