40 – Paying Taxes
And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.
- Caesar: The head of the Roman Empire
- Denarius: Roman coin
- Render: Give
- Marvel: Filled with astonishment
Why do people have to pay taxes? What does it show us?
What do you think God deserves to receive from us?
Imagine how Jesus was feeling when the religious leaders came back to him again. He was so patient with them, as they returned time after time to test him. Like a boxer who loses every round but refuses to give up, they attack once again. Having had time to think, they now believe they have found a way to catch him out.
To begin with they pay him a big compliment. In case he avoids answering the question, they emphasise the fact that he teaches the will of God in a totally honest way, not caring what people think of him. Then they raise a very controversial subject, that is, was it right for the people of God to pay taxes to Caesar? The Romans asked for money from everyone under their authority, and obviously the Jews did not want to recognise that authority. Therefore, Jesus is put into a difficult situation once again. If he says that they need to pay taxes to Caesar, then the people will turn their backs on him for not standing up to the Roman enemies. But if he says that there is no need to pay the tax, they would be able to accuse him of rebelling against Rome.
Although Jesus knows what is in their hearts, he gives them an answer, but not the kind of answer they expected. He asks them for a coin to look at and turns their attention to the fact that there is a picture of Caesar stamped on it – Caesar was really the owner of the money. Then he gives them a remarkably clever answer because it can be understood in several ways. One meaning was that Jesus was saying it was okay to pay money back to Caesar; this would please the Romans. At the same time Jesus’s words could mean that Caesar ought to receive that which he deserves – that is the punishment of God; this would please the people.
But what does it mean to pay things belonging to God back to God? The Bible tells us that we are people created in the form and image of God – the stamp of the Creator is on us all. Therefore, if he has created everyone and everything and therefore owns it all, then he alone deserves everything we have to offer.
What does it mean in your life to give the things of God back to God?
Remembering that Jesus is the King, what is striking about the fact that he has to ask someone to show a piece of silver to him?
for help to live in a way that shows you have been created in the form and image of God.