Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Matthew 22: 19 – 22
There’s a lot going on in this very short passage.
In the Jewish system at that time the civil service was run through the temple system and priestly structures, and paid for from the tithes and offerings of the people. Giving tax money to Rome was therefore both religiously and politically offensive to the Jewish leaders. In presenting this scenario, the Pharisees wanted to test – and discredit – Jesus, so they misappropriate an aspect of Jewish law to present him with a lose-lose situation. Either way he is a lawbreaker. The Pharisees were a voice of opposition to Roman rule, and would have represented the views of many ordinary Jews. If Jesus agreed with the Roman taxation, he will be both contradicting the religious leaders of his own people, and losing the sympathy of the many ordinary Jews who despise their Roman overlords.
In his answer, Jesus also did a number of things. He reminds them that in paying the Roman coin back to Rome, is not giving the emperor anything that wasn’t his already. He then makes a statement that may have been troubling to many. Pay to God what belongs to God, that which is God’s. Are those who are so caught up with the Roman coin sure that they are giving God his due in every area of their lives?
Prayer: Creator God, the psalmist reminds us that ‘the earth is the Lords, and everything in it.’ Nothing is ours to withhold from you. As you have given to us without stinting, even to giving the life of your own Son, help us Lord to be equally open-hearted and open-handed in giving you what you require from us; hearts that love you, ears that hear you, hands and feet that do your will.
Action: Take some time to reflect. Is there anything that you have been reluctant to give to God this today. He asks for our love and obedience, but also that we give him our concerns, and learn to trust him. Consider how you might respond to this insight.