Render to God
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Matthew 22:15-17 (ESV)
There can’t be many people who are actually keen to pay their taxes. Who puts their hands up and says: ‘Oh whoopee, look what the government has taken out of my pocket for tax’? The Jews of Jesus’ time were no different. They, not unnaturally, resented having to pay taxes as they were forking out to support their Roman conquerors. So it was an ideal subject for the Pharisees to try to trip Jesus up and get him into hot water with either the authorities or the people.
It seems his pockets were empty and he asked for a coin. It’s the Pharisees who supplied it. The coin would have had an emperor’s image on one side. The Roman emperors were worshipped as gods after their death and, in most places in the empire, during their lives as well. So for Jesus to reply that they should pay tax to Caesar would be to break the second commandment. Reject paying tax to Caesar, and he would be courting rebellion and, given that the Herodians were present, that would soon get back to Pilate.
But we have his astonishing reply that blows the Pharisees’ machinations out of the water: give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are Gods. And what isn’t God’s? ‘The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.’ (Psalm 24:1 NRSV). Tiberius, the emperor at the time, may have thought he ruled the world. He may have considered himself a god. He may have thought a bit of worship never goes amiss – though in his quiet times, in the middle of the night, he may have had doubts about it.
But like all of us, he will one day stand before Jesus’ throne. Will he render to God then the things that are already God’s? Will he kneel and say:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.1
Father, may we learn not to be little Caesars ourselves, but, ‘grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ’2 giving our lives to him. Amen.
1 Isaac Watts, When I survey the Wondrous Cross, last verse
2 Ephesians 4:15
About the writer:
Hilary Buck is a minister and pastors the Lewes congregation of Grace Communion International.
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