‘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.’
Matthew 22:19-21 (NIV)
Read: Matthew 22:15-22
Consider: At the beginning of today’s reading we are told that the Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus in his words. They could not refute that Jesus’ miracles clearly demonstrated his power and authority, so they tried to catch him out with a question they thought would given them ammunition against him.
On the face of it the interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees might seem harmless. They started off with flattery: Teacher, they said, we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are (Matthew 22:16). Hoping to have put Jesus off his guard, they then ask him a question that on the face if it seems innocuous. We are told they said: Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the poll-tax or not? (22:17).
The Pharisees said themselves that Jesus taught the way of God in accordance with the truth, so they didn’t ask him what the law said about paying taxes. Instead they asked him for his opinion. At this point Jesus knew they were trying to trap him and instead of giving his opinion, he uses a coin as an illustration to show them a profound truth. As the coin, a denarius, bore the image of Caesar, Jesus said: So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s (22:21).
We can understand Jesus was telling the Pharisees that paying taxes was not an issue, as the money used bore Caesar’s image. However, what did he mean when he said ‘… give back … to God what is God’s’ (22:21)? To understand this we need to think again about Jesus’ use of the word ‘image’. The Greek word used here has a Hebrew equivalent that is used in Genesis 1:26-27 where we read: Then God said: Let us make mankind in our image … So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them …’. Can you see that Jesus is saying that the money used to pay the taxes bears Caesar’s image and that mankind bears God’s image. Understanding that mankind bears God’s image makes sense of Jesus’ statement to give back to God what is God’s.
We live in a materialistic world where people want to minimise their tax liability. Would Jesus approve, or would he tell us to pay the Government what it is due? More importantly, Jesus wants us to give God his rightful place in our lives and not to hold anything back from him.
Pray: Father, may we willingly give back to you what is rightfully yours; our lives and all that we have. May we also have a correct view of material things. Amen