“So as not to offend” is a loaded statement. It can be used in hundreds of situations, and sometimes is meant to keep us from correcting people or from saying things that will seem put-offish.
Today’s Gospel is somewhat cryptic. We get a very short reminder that Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death. Then the rather strange story about the temple tax. This piece is only found in Matthew’s gospel, perhaps because Matthew used to be a tax collector. Along with the question and answer period about the tax, we have the miracle of the coin in the mouth of the fish. Would that we all could find our tax money that way! The interesting point about the temple tax is that Jesus believes he should be exempt because He is not a foreigner, but rather a son, Son of God, therefore a citizen – a citizen of the kingdom – the kingdom of heaven. But then he tells Peter to fish for the coin and pay the tax for both of them – “so as not to offend.”
I believe this comes down to something else we often find ourselves saying: “I chose to pick my battles.” Ah, yes. It is at times prudent to let something go rather than putting someone off, who then will never listen to anything we have to say. It could be Jesus’ reason for paying the tax. He would rather pay, so as not to offend, and go on his way preaching and be listened to, rather than having the tax collectors spouting off “Hey, He won’t pay the tax! He’s a cheater! Why should you listen to him?”
It makes perfect sense to me. And I think, at times, it makes sense to pick our battles, whether with our friends, families or others. I don’t believe it means to just back down over everything, because the truth must be spoken, often, and with conviction. But at times we have to be prudent. Are we trying to get a point across by bashing someone over the head with it? Or can we pick our battle at a later date, and work by example to make the point? It may be worth it. In the long run, it was for Jesus. The temple tax was not a battle he was going to fight at that time.
Take people where they are in their spirituality at the time you meet them. Not everyone is ready. It takes prudent pruning and cajoling to get people to listen to the truth. It is foreign to some, and terrifying to others. Take them where they are and let them see, by what you do and how you live, that the truth in Jesus Christ can be embraced without fear, to lead to freedom.
Oh, and you do have to pay your taxes! God Bless.
Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager here at Diocesan, is currently a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. While at St. Thomas the Apostle, Grand Rapids, Jeanne was a Lector, Cantor, Coordinator of Special Liturgies, Coordinator of lectors and, at one time, chair of the Liturgy Commission. In a past life, secretary/bookkeeper at the Basilica of St. Adalbert where she ran the RCIA program for the Steepletown parishes. And she loves to write! When relaxing, she likes reading and word puzzles. You can contact her at email@example.com.