(Matthew 22.15-22; Luke 20.20-26)
13The Pharisees got together with Herod's followers. Then they sent some men to trick Jesus into saying something wrong. 14They went to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are honest. You treat everyone with the same respect, no matter who they are. And you teach the truth about what God wants people to do. Tell us, should we pay taxes to the Emperor or not?”
15Jesus knew what they were up to, and he said, “Why are you trying to test me? Show me a coin!”
16They brought him a silver coin, and he asked, “Whose picture and name are on it?”
“The Emperor's,” they answered.
17Then Jesus told them, “Give the Emperor what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God.” The men were amazed at Jesus.
When one discussion involves politics, taxes, and religion, all the elements for controversy are present. Controversy was exactly what the religious leaders were hoping to generate when they asked Jesus about the appropriateness of paying taxes to Caesar. If Jesus supported paying taxes, then the people would have been upset that he was supporting the godless regime that ruled over them. If Jesus did not support paying taxes, however, he would be labelled a public revolutionary and done away with. Either way, the religious leaders were sure that Jesus was going to offend and alienate a great many people: he would either be branded as an enemy of Israel or an enemy of Rome. Regardless of what Jesus said, he was in trouble.
Jesus, however, not only avoids their trap, he teaches an extraordinarily profound lesson in the process. He asks for a coin that bears Caesar’s image and Caesar’s inscription. When the religious leaders acknowledge that the coin bears Caesar’s image, Jesus tells them to “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The people were amazed at the wisdom of his answer – but why?
How did the religious leaders know the coin belonged to Caesar? They knew it belonged to him because it bore his image. What bears God’s image? Every one of the Jewish people knew that the Book of Genesis teaches that human beings were created in the image of God. Therefore, what Jesus is saying is that everything we are belongs to God, and we must give ourselves to him. Let Caesar have his coins, and let God have our heart, mind, soul, and strength! Let Caesar have our tax money, but let God have our body and soul. We are the image-bearers of God, and we belong to him.
Lord, you created us in your image and likeness. Help us to recognize how special this gift is. Help us also to freely give to you all that we are and have. Let us dedicate ourselves fully and exclusively to your service. In Jesus’ name, Amen.