(Mark 12.13-17; Luke 20.20-26)
15The Pharisees got together and planned how they could trick Jesus into saying something wrong. 16They sent some of their followers and some of Herod's followers to say to him, “Teacher, we know that you are honest. You teach the truth about what God wants people to do. And you treat everyone with the same respect, no matter who they are. 17Tell us what you think! Should we pay taxes to the Emperor or not?”
18Jesus knew their evil thoughts and said, “Why are you trying to test me? You show-offs! 19Let me see one of the coins used for paying taxes.” They brought him a silver coin, 20and he asked, “Whose picture and name are on it?”
21“The Emperor's,” they answered.
Then Jesus told them, “Give the Emperor what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God.” 22His answer surprised them so much that they walked away.
“Tell us what you think! Should we pay taxes to the Emperor or not?”
The Pharisees’ followers and Herod’s supporters posed this trick question to Jesus. The unusual cooperation between these two groups meant only one thing – they felt national interests were threatened. They became allies solely to bring Jesus down, and he knew it.
If Jesus said yes to this question, he would alienate the general population. Paying the despised poll tax signified submission to Rome – something the people hated. Condoning it would turn his followers away and allow the Pharisees and Herodians to achieve their goal. But if he said no, then the religious leaders would accuse him of treason – a crime punishable by death.
Rather than succumb to their schemes, Jesus took a Roman coin and held it up for all to see. “Whose picture and name are on it?” he asked.
“Caesar’s,” the group said.
“Then give the Emperor what belongs to him, and give God what belongs to God,” Jesus replied. His answer – simple but profound – left the men speechless. They couldn’t argue with his wisdom and truth.
Neither can we. In so few words, Jesus reminds us of our obligation to obey human laws and still give God our complete allegiance. Just as Caesar’s face was carved on the coin, so God’s image is stamped on humankind. As a result, we’re to give him the worship and devotion that’s rightfully his. We’re to obey human authority, but we’re to honour God above all. It’s hard to argue with that.
Dear heavenly Father, thanks for giving me Jesus as my teacher. Please help me do what he said – obey human authority and give you my full allegiance. Develop integrity in me that I might shine as a light within our darkened society and draw others to you. In Jesus name, Amen.