In recognition of tax day today, I thought I’d link to last year’s post “Render to Caesar.” But then I realized it was like 1,400 words. Did I really used to write that long? I didn’t even want to read the whole thing. So here’s a portion of that post.
Getting back to the question posed to Jesus. (By the way, there is a record in Matthew 17 that Jesus paid the temple tax—with a coin found in the mouth of a fish pulled out of the Galilean Sea by Peter.) If Jesus were to say it was unlawful to pay Roman taxes, he assuredly would have drawn the ire of the Romans, who really had nothing against him. In allowing for taxes, Jesus would have angered the Jews who were looking for a financial savior.
In his great wisdom and sensing their hypocrisy, Jesus requests the coin with which they would pay their tax: a denarius, equal to about a day’s wage. Instead of answering their question and presumably sidestepping the dilemma, he asks, “Whose image and inscription is on this coin?”
On this particular silver coin would have been the image of Tiberius Caesar with the Latin inscription “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus” around the coin’s perimeter. On the opposite side was a picture of the Roman goddess of peace, Pax, with the Latin inscription “High Priest.”
Jesus’ audience, which included the two strangely linked groups [Pharisees and Herodians] as well as his followers, would have been well aware of the Second Commandment, which forbids the making of graven images. This coin with its image of Tiberius and Pax would have repulsed the Jews.
To their reply—“Caesar’s”—he responds, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” You could imagine their silence as his words reverberated. Mark says they marveled at Him, were amazed by Him. I love The Message here: “Their mouths hung open, speechless.”
Because Caesar’s image was on the coin, Jesus was saying that it belonged to him. “Looks like his coin, give it to him.” However, there is one thing not owed to Caesar but to God alone: our worship.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. —Genesis 1:27 ESV
Because we bear God’s image we belong to him. We don’t give ourselves to Caesar or anyone else but to God. …
We may not agree with the way all of our tax money is used and we can express ourselves with our voice and our vote—sort of—but we must accept the fact that God has established human government for our good. Honor the emperor but fear God. Give respect to the king but give worship to God.
We bear the image of God, so we belong to him. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.