That same night I washed myself and went into my courtyard and slept by the wall of the courtyard; and my face was uncovered because of the heat. I did not know that there were sparrows on the wall; their fresh droppings fell into my eyes and produced white films. I went to physicians to be healed, but the more they treated me with ointments the more my vision was obscured by the white films, until I became completely blind. For four years I remained unable to see. All my kindred were sorry for me, and Ahikar took care of me for two years before he went to Elymais.
At that time, also, my wife Anna earned money at women's work. She used to send what she made to the owners and they would pay wages to her. One day, the seventh of Dystrus, when she cut off a piece she had woven and sent it to the owners, they paid her full wages and also gave her a young goat for a meal. When she returned to me, the goat began to bleat. So I called her and said, "Where did you get this goat? It is surely not stolen, is it? Return it to the owners; for we have no right to eat anything stolen." But she said to me, "It was given to me as a gift in addition to my wages." But I did not believe her, and told her to return it to the owners. I became flushed with anger against her over this. Then she replied to me, "Where are your acts of charity? Where are your righteous deeds? These things are known about you!"
They sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?" But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it."
It is good to find our daily life issues mirrored in the Scriptures. We must keep an awareness of God, even amid our quarrels and banter. The virtue being taught in the first reading is perseverance, at whose heart there should be love, leavened with humor. Tobit's wife feels that her husband's piety goes a bit too far. When he doubts her honesty over the gift of a young goat, she can take it no longer, "Where are your charitable deeds now? Where are all your virtuous acts?" she demands. It may seem strange that today's reading ends with Tobit's wife's exasperation with her husband and poor, blind Tobit himself rendered speechless.
The gospel also ends with no clear answer, only an enigmatic, general principle, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's but to God what is God's." When religion and politics clash today--as, for instance, in Ireland; whether we should legislate further in the direction of a permissive society--we might wish that the Lord had explained exactly what belongs to Caesar as distinct from what belongs to God. Jesus does not spell out where the boundary lies, but he always promotes honesty, compassion and forgiveness. The critics who questioned him were not seeking an honest answer; so, knowing their hypocrisy, Jesus looked at them, and began his reply with the question, "Why are you trying to trip me up?"
If we were to follow the homely example of Tobit, and are sincere and open in our faith, we will accomplish what is within our power, and the Holy Spirit can do with us more than we imagine, towards building up the Kingdom of God on earth.
The question put to Jesus in today's gospel is deliberately meant to trap him. If he were to say, "Yes, pay your taxes to Caesar," he would lose the esteem of most of the Jewish people who resented the Roman presence; if he says, "No, do not pay your taxes to Caesar" he would be liable to arrest and trial by the Romans. Jesus was asked many questions in the course of his public ministry and when the question came from a heart that was genuinely searching he took it very seriously. On this occasion, however, Jesus' questioners were simply out to get him. Yet, Jesus did not stay silent before this question, insincere as it was. In a very succinct and somewhat enigmatic fashion he declared that people should give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give back to God what belongs to God. The coin can be given to Caesar because it belongs to him, but what is to be given to God is something much more fundamental. A little later in that same chapter of Mark's gospel, Jesus will spell out what is due to God--God is to be loved with all our heart, soul and mind. God is to be our first and greatest love, our primary commitment. That certainly can never be said of any human authority, be it political or otherwise. Jesus is saying that no Caesar, no political institution, no human institution can ever take the place of God in our lives.