This past Wednesday, national tax day, I was reminded of a small ancient silver coin I purchased in Israel last year. It was a Roman denarius, bought in Jericho from an antiques dealer.
I was interested in this coin because Jesus referred to it as payment for a day’s wage in the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew. 20:1-16). But I was especially attracted to the denarius because of Jesus’ response concerning the paying of taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:18-22).
The context of this story involves the disciples of the Pharisees, who were extremely concerned about God’s law, and the followers of King Herod, who cared very little about the divine commandments. They set aside their differences and formed an alliance against a mutual enemy — Jesus Christ. Their goal was to entrap Jesus into saying something against the religious community or against Herod or Caesar, their ultimate aim being to bring charges of heresy or sedition.
This union of hypocrites came to Jesus and asked him: “Teacher … is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:16-17)
Immediately, Jesus saw through the scheme and asked why they were trying to trap him. Then he said, “Show me the coin used for paying the tax.”
They brought him a denarius, and he asked them: “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. (Matthew 22:18-21)
The insincere questioners waited for Jesus to reply. Would he belittle the image of Caesar knowing that it violated the second commandment? Or, would he endorse the support of Caesar, a self-glorifying foreign oppressor? Either response would be grounds for incrimination.
All eyes remained fastened on Jesus. The tension was tremendous. The conspirators were possibly thinking, “We’ve got him!”
But Jesus’ response was so unexpected and clear. He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
Jesus clearly delineated between the empire of Rome (a human government) and the kingdom of God. Jesus affirmed paying the tax. Why? Because honoring God does not mean dishonoring the emperor by refusing to pay taxes, which provided the privileges of an orderly society, police protection, good roads, courts and so much more.
Likewise, Jesus emphasizes that everyone must give to God what belongs to him, which is also accompanied with divine benefits and blessings.
What belongs to God? Everything! Everything belongs to him. May we give God our love, devotion, worship, resources, time, service and so much more.
We have just paid our taxes. Now let us give to God what belongs to him.