Some of our readers have no doubt heard the phrase, “it’s time to pay the piper,” or something close to that. Many have long thought that it has something to do with the legendary story of the Pied Piper who played tunes for children in a small town but when he asked for payment and was not offered anything for his talent, he led the children out of the town where they were never seen again. Rather, the idea is much simpler. Musicians traditionally and to this day are paid at the end of a performance, so the idea is that if people have been dancing to the music all night, at the end, it is time to pay up. In our Scripture Readings of today, there are two examples of having to settle accounts. The first is from the Book of Deuteronomy: “And now, Israel, what does the LORD, your God, ask of you but to fear the LORD, your God, and follow his ways exactly, to love and serve the LORD, your God, with all your heart and all your soul, to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD which I enjoin on you today for your own good?” This becomes a foretaste of the second coming of the Lord in all its splendor and glory. Certainly, it is a graphic and dramatic time to give an account of all we have been given and we have given in return.
The second is as mundane as our first example is sublime: “Does not your teacher pay the temple tax?” In this passage, Jesus almost seems dismissive altogether about the question and gives a strange set of instructions on how to obtain the coin in which to pay the tax. What are we to make of this and how are the examples related? First about the mundane: Jesus desires all people to be free to live their lives to the fullest of all providence. Our prayer must always include petitions to free us from the fixations, irritations and trivialities that distract us from the fundamental task of growing in love and of building the Kingdom of God. Our desire to remove silly and artificial obstacles to our salvation helps us understand, appreciate and yes, even embrace our suffering. Suffering disorients us. We cannot understand it fully. Jesus brings meaning from it at a profound level which we cannot grasp, except through a lively and genuine faith that is lived every single day. That is why we must pray for a greater appreciation of the sufferings of Christ. Paying our taxes, putting up with frustrations and disappointments helps us be ready for the great conclusion of our lives which is a vision of glory and justice which is beyond all our understanding: “God has called you through the Gospel to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“He who pays the pipe calls the tune.” (Proverb)