When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Does not your teacher pay the temple tax?”
“Yes,” he said.
I love this story of Jesus' paying the temple tax. It's a story of prevarication and compromise, all in a good cause.
First there is Peter's ready statement that Jesus absolutely does pay the temple tax. I get the impression that he is not too sure of his answer but he's willing to cover for the Lord until the matter is clarified. What are friends for if not to tell little white lies when the occasion calls for it?
Then there is Jesus' compromise. He knows, and explains to Peter, that he should not have to pay the tax. He is the Son of God; he owns the temple! But the hour of revelation has not yet come and there's no need to stir up a hornets' nest of trouble over this irrelevancy.
Thirdly, I see some compromise in Jesus' act of legerdemain. He doesn't usually stoop to magic to demonstrate his authority. True he can still the tempest when he and the fellows are crossing the Sea of Galilee; he can feed five thousand with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. But those are public acts that reveal to those who have eyes to see his identity. Sending Peter down to the shore to pull out a fish that has a coin in his mouth seems a bit unnecessary. It's like using one's war chest to pay personal bills. It's not done. We know that Judas managed the donated funds for just such a purpose.
Recently, in American political discourse, compromise has become a dirty word. That's odd because, until recently, we celebrated the practice of compromise in the foundation of the nation. The legislators in Philadelphia settled on the Great Compromise to create the House of Representatives and the House of Senators. The formula has worked pretty well, although the bicameral Congress spent the first seventy years arguing about how to keep the nation together; a problem that was solved only with the Civil War.
Purist would like to rewrite American history -- or Church history -- to show there have never been any compromises with evil; that we have walked a straight line toward the Kingdom of God without wavering. And we will not waver now!
These mistaken souls have made a most unfortunate compromise in settling on that faux history. Honesty is willing to know the truth and teach it to our children. To keep the fragile nation intact the legislators -- dubbed the "Founding Fathers" -- accepted the corruption of slavery into our founding document, and wisely omitted any mention of God. More recently, the Supreme Court has accepted abortion, a mythological interpretation of the Second Amendment, and a bizarre reading of marriage. To live in this country Catholics choose to live with these abominations although we oppose them. We compromise when we pay our taxes, knowing that some of the money will be used to pay for abortions, to fund unjust war, and support unworthy causes.
Jesus has demonstrated that, to a point, we can make compromise and have peace in our souls. To be human is to make compromises. There is no escape from that.
There came a moment when fidelity to his God and Father demanded that he enter Jerusalem. He could not escape the inevitable consequences of his ministry to the poor, the sick and the despised; nor did he attempt to. Even when he was offered the opportunity to explain himself he remained silent.
As we live our lives we pray that God the Spirit will help us to discern those moments when we can compromise and when we must not.