Giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s
Remember last week when the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus so they could get rid of Him? Well they’re back again, and with a new angle. If they couldn’t get Jesus to say something against Judaism, perhaps they could get Him in trouble with the Romans.
As Jesus was teaching in the temple, some Pharisees came up and asked Jesus if He felt they should pay taxes to Rome. This was an intended trap because one of the burning issues of the day was this: “If God gave the land of Israel to the Hebrews (Jews), and if God meant them to live there, and if He received their sacrifices and offerings in acknowledgment of His relationship to them, how could they pay tribute to any other power, king, god, or person? If Christ said that they should pay, they could then charge Him with disloyalty to Judaism; if He said no, they could denounce Him to the Romans.”*
Jesus’ response was to have the Pharisees show Him a Roman coin: a denarius. Jesus then asked the question: “Whose likeness is on the coin?” They replied; “Caesar’s.” Jesus said, “You are right. Now pay Caesar what is due Caesar but pay to God what is God’s.” The Bible then states that the Pharisees were amazed.
Well, why were they amazed? This was more or less what they were doing anyway. Every good Jew was already tithing and worshipping God in the temple; and whether or not the Jews wanted to pay taxes to Rome, they still did. What Jesus did was show the proper attitude towards our leaders and towards God. Jesus’ message was this: God put rulers over us in our lives: Presidents, Governors, bosses, etc. by His design. Because God placed these people in these positions, we are to respect them and give them their due — they were hand-picked by God (though you may not want to tell your boss this). In being obedient to them, we are being obedient to God’s will.
More importantly though, we are to give God His due. Everything we have and everything we are belongs to God — He’s only letting us borrow it for a while. Our work and our wage is only a subset of what God has given us overall. All He asks for in return is our obedience and a portion of what He has already given us (a tithe). If we acknowledge that everything we have was given to us by God, then giving something back should be a joyful and praiseworthy event. THIS is the attitude that Jesus had in mind when He spoke.
Why did Jesus ask the Pharisees to show Him a denarius? Because it represented a day’s wages for the average worker. Jesus said to give back what our leaders required from us, but give to God what was due Him. Who are you going to work for today?
* quoted from note on Matt 22:17, NASB Bible.