That 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."
Happy the man who fears the Lord,
who takes delight in his commands.
His sons will be powerful on earth;
the children of the upright are blessed. (R./)
He has no fear of evil news:
with a firm heart he trusts in the Lord.
With a steadfast heart he will not fear;
he will see the downfall of his foes. (R./)
Open-handed, he gives to the poor;
his justice stands firm for ever.
His head will be raised in glory. (R./)
The chief priests and the scribes and the elders sent to Jesus some Pharisees and some Herodians to catch him out in what he said. These came and said to him, 'Master, we know you are an honest man, that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man's rank means nothing to you, and that you teach the way of God in all honesty. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay, yes or no?' Seeing through their hypocrisy he said to them, 'Why do you set this trap for me? Hand me a denarius and let me see it.' They handed him one and he said, 'Whose head is this? Whose name?' 'Caesar's' they told him. Jesus said to them, 'Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.' This reply took them completely by surprise.
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 was meant to get him into trouble. If he should answer, "Yes, pay your taxes to Caesar," he would lose the esteem of patriotic Jews who resented the Roman presence. If instead he says, "No, do not pay your taxes to Caesar" he could be arrested by the Romans for promoting revolution against the Roman system. Jesus was asked many awkward 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. But on this occasion the questioners were simply out to get him.
After a pause, Jesus gave his answer to this question that was meant to trap him. In a succinct, enigmatic fashion he declares that we should return to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give back to God what belongs to God. The coin can be given to Caesar because his image is stampted on it, but what is to be given to God is something much more fundamental. Later in that same chapter he will spell out what is due to God: We are to love God 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, political or otherwise. No Caesar, no political institution, no human institution can ever take the place of God in our lives.