Gospel: Mt 17:22-27
While Jesus was in Galilee with the Twelve, he said to them, “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. But he will rise on the third day.” The Twelve were deeply grieved.
When they returned to Capernaum, the temple tax collectors came to Peter and asked him, “Does your master pay the temple tax?” He answered, “Yes.”
Peter then entered the house; and immediately, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Simon? Who pay taxes or tribute to the kings of the earth: their sons or strangers and aliens?” Peter replied, “Strangers and aliens.” And Jesus told him, “The sons, then, are tax-free. But, so as not to offend these people, go to the sea, throw in a hook, and open the mouth of the first fish you catch. You will find a coin in it. Take the coin and give it to them for you and for me.”
It might help to recall that neither the king’s family nor Roman citizens pay Roman taxes. But citizens of nations subject to Rome had to pay Roman taxes. Jewish converts to Christianity were faced with a dilemma – were they obliged to pay the Temple tax? They have joined a new faith community although they still continued to meet and pray in the Temple. This Gospel story provides some answer or clarification to the dilemma. Jesus himself paid the Temple tax, although he was the Son of God and was exempt. Christians are encouraged to pay as Jesus did so as not to cause scandal. By doing so they would be giving a good example for other people to follow. Although they no longer have a moral obligation to pay Christians should be aware of the sensitivities of others. Paying the temple tax would likewise manifest respect for their ancestral heritage.
This serves to remind us that our criteria for doing something good should not be whether we have a moral obligation or not. It should be what love or charity asks of us. In making a decision a good Christian does not ask, what is the most practical or most convenient thing to do? Rather he/she asks, what is the most loving thing to do in this situation?