The Pharisees went off
and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.
They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying,
“Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man
and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion,
for you do not regard a person’s status.
Tell us, then, what is your opinion:
Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
Knowing their malice, Jesus said,
“Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?
Show me the coin that pays the census tax.”
Then they handed him the Roman coin.
He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”
They replied, “Caesar’s.”
At that he said to them,
“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.” Mt 22:15-21
They come to Christ and they ask what appears to be a rather simple question, clothed in flattery. “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If he says no, the Herodians will report to Rome that he indeed is a rebel and can be suppressed as a revolutionary element. If he says yes, the Pharisees will condemn him as a hypocrite, and not the reformer he is becoming noted for.
Jesus, being wiser than them all, sees the ploy and deftly steps aside. Innocently, he asks to see the coin of which they speak. By producing it of course, they condemn themselves. The denarius (the coin of Rome) is not legal tender among Jews, nor is it acceptable payment at the temple. Jews coin their own money for trade between themselves. The denarius, which reflects the Emperor as “God” is blasphemous. No pious Jew should be in possession of it.
This passage is well known to the average Christian, and for that reason, people don’t think deeply about it I suspect. I surely didn’t, I know. Everyone knows the refrain, “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God, that which is God’s”. True enough. Yet we seldom examine that phrase.
Some of our Christian community uses the statement as a means of arguing to others, that we are to obey lawful authority in their “realm”, but somehow divide that from our allegiance to God and that “realm”.
Yet, this is faulty and not what Jesus said.
For what is “that which is God’s?” Is it not everything? What is not the province of God?
Is Jesus pointing out to us that Caesar (the State) represents merely “things”, all of which, like the denarius, are worthless in the realm of God. They are meaningless, and should be handed over without thought or concern.
God, controls all that is of value. And we owe God literally everything.
While his opponents place great value on money and power and who is owed what, Jesus, unbeknownst to them, laughs at their concerns and points out that they, like Martha, worry about many things.
Do we rightly discern what belongs to Caesar today?
- Lectionary Sunday – October 16 – Matthew 22:15-22 (reimagineimago.wordpress.com)
- Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (prepareformass.wordpress.com)
- Give to Caesar What Is Caesar’s… (criadodeverdade.wordpress.com)