The old saying is that there is nothing certain in life other than death and taxes. Another certainty, however, is that there will always be a substantial faction of people opposed to God’s authority and the person of Jesus Christ.
Wanting to catch Jesus in some verbal remark that could be used against him with the Romans, the Jewish authorities sent spies to question him. We can surely imagine that there was a meeting in advance of this action, with ideas and suggestions being bantered about as to what sort of question could be most incriminating.
Taxes! Yes, that’s the ticket! It’s a universal truth that everyone hates them (except those collecting them) and is a subject that will get folks wound up. This is especially true when some may think that others are not paying what they should be (like certain public officials).
Beyond being a most common irritant, it was a subject of such controversy that any answer Jesus would give would put him in an incriminating light. If he answered that not paying taxes was correct (as might be imagined with all of his “kingdom talk”), he could be brought before the Romans as seditious. If he answered that taxes should be appropriately paid, this would offend the Jewish element of the Zealots who despised Roman domination. Yep, win-win.
But Jesus had this unique, unparalleled ability to find the invisible middle ground that rendered accusers speechless, or as the British would say, “gob-smacked.” Getting a coin and noting the image of Caesar upon it, he says, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
We often speak of the Christian life in terms of living between two worlds, and this is true. We have obligations to the material world and the authorities that have their granted role of governance under God’s providence, but we know that our greater citizenship is in an eternal, spiritual realm. We deal appropriately with the material world, while also always knowing that it is the true and lasting kingdom toward which our highest and most ardent affections and energies belong.
This we do by giving to God what is God’s; and what is that? What is in His image? Of course, it is we ourselves who are created in that image, and in faith renewed to grow into and express God’s image to others around us.
Let us daily remember that it is so, so easy to get so, so involved in the former – the material – that we short-change the latter – the spiritual.
Luke 20:20 – Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
25 He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.