Over the last few weeks, we have read of the religious leaders in Jerusalem being on the receiving end of a series of highly critical parables that Jesus told (Matthew 21:23-22:14).
Now, if we read Matthew 22: 15-22, we see that they are on the offensive. Their plan is to trap Jesus by publicly asking carefully contrived questions and discredit him in the eyes of the people.
So, after some false flattery highlighting Jesus’ integrity, they ask, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not”? (22:17)
At that time the people were liable for a variety of taxes amongst which was the Temple Tax, Ground Tax, Income Tax and Tribute or Poll Tax.
The particular tax at the heart of the Pharisee’s question, however, was the Poll Tax. It was a direct, administrative tax levied by the Roman Government and hated by the people.
Unlike the Temple Tax, which was paid in Jewish shekels, the Poll Tax had to be paid in Roman coinage. The rate was one denarius.
What made it so objectionable was that the denarius was stamped with the face of the Emperor and bore the words “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the deified Augustus, chief priest”.
To a people who only worshipped the Lord, God Almighty, this divine status given to Caesar was an affront.
The problem, however, was that if Jesus said, “No, don’t pay this tax”, he could be seen as plotting and campaigning against Rome and liable to arrest.
On the other hand, by answering “Yes, pay the tax” the Pharisees would have ample fuel to discredit him among the people as a Roman sympathiser and unfaithful to God.
A seemingly no-win situation. But instead of giving a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer, Jesus called for a coin used to pay the tax.
When asked whose image and name was on the denarius and they said, “Caesar’s”, Jesus’ reply was devastating, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”. (22:21).
In other words, the coin bearing his name and face signified it belonged to him, so give it back to him.
He then went on to say, “and pay God what belongs to God”. Give back to God the things that are God’s.
It was an answer which acknowledges that there are obligations to worldly authorities; to pay taxes for services the community receive. It also says that there are obligations to uphold as God’s people.
Jesus’ answer puts into perspective our responsibility to the World and to God.
We are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26). He created us and we are His Children. He created this world in which we live, and so we are also people of the world.
It follows that, as citizens of the world, it is right to contribute to the running of the services from which we benefit.
But not only are we citizens of the world, we are also citizens of God’s Kingdom. (Ephesians 2:19) “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household”.
As such, we are called to give ourselves to God. And how do we do that? We give ourselves to God in worship, in praise, in prayer and in service; service that includes working in the world.
Working in the world to show God’s care for everyone; highlighting and challenging injustice and abuse. Working to improve the lives of others.
Working to do our part for God’s Kingdom in the world. Speaking out for those with no voice. Standing up for those who are worn down and powerless. Showing the world God’s way.
We are God’s People called to live out our lives and our faith in the world. In everything we do, we are to work with integrity, honesty and fairness.
The coin used to pay the tax carried Caesar’s image: give it back to him said Jesus. Give back to the world what belongs to the world.
We bear God’s image: we are to give ourselves back to God: the God who created us in His own image: the God who gives us everything: the God who gives us life.
As God’s people, citizens of God’s Kingdom, let us stand up for God in our World and give ourselves to Him; a living offering.
Let us pray,
Lord, God Almighty, You are the creator of heaven and earth. You made us in Your image; we are Yours. You provide for all that we need to sustain our life. You care for us, nurture us and bless us in Your love. Gracious God, we thank You.
You have set us in families and communities and call us to work, in Your Name, where we are. Help us hear and respond to that invitation. May we to whom You have given so much, offer ourselves completely to You.
Take our lives and consecrate them in Your service so that all we do and say may reflect your love. Guide your church as it works in the world to help change lives for the better and show the way to You.
Open all hearts to truth and justice. May those who govern and are in positions of power and authority undertake their duties in a spirit of humility, and nations work together for the good of the world.
Amen, and may we, as citizens of this world and of God’s Kingdom, reach out to all in Christ’s love.