13 (The chief priests and the scribes and the elders) sent to (Jesus) some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.’ 16And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ 17Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him.
Open just about any Bible to the passage assigned in this morning’s Daily Office and we see the heading: “The Question about Paying Taxes” (or something to that effect). But is this a question about how Christians in the 21st Century are to relate to the IRS? No.
Two opposing groups visit Jesus in an attempt to figure out his allegiance. In other words: “Jesus, should your followers pay taxes to the emperor… you know, the head of the army that’s occupying your people’s homeland?”If Jesus answers “No, my disciples should NOT pay taxes” … then the government (Herodians) would view Jesus as seditious and likely have him “removed”.
If Jesus answers “Yes, my disciples SHOULD pay taxes” … then, to the Pharisees and others in religious circles, the idea that he could be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah goes out the window.
Whom should Jesus upset: the government or the religious establishment?
A trap has been set for Jesus. He’s being asked a dualistic, zero-sum game question. This story shows us just how often humanity likes to make issues black and white. We prefer over-simplification, no time for nuance.
Jesus will have none of it.
Jesus takes a coin, asks whose image is on the coin, and when people point to the image of the emperor on the coin, much like we have political figures on our currency, Jesus states: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias says we need to ponder Jesus’s statement and not move away from it too quickly. Why?
The coin has the image of the emperor on it, which means that said coin ultimately was minted by the emperor. Thus, Jesus says we should give to the emperor the very things that the emperor made.
Jesus then says we should give to God the things that are God’s. And this, according to Zacharias, is where we need to dig. What bears God’s image? More specifically, who bears God’s image? Our minds should immediately go to the first book of the Bible.
“God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus reminds us to who we are and whose we are.
We are created in the image of God.
Our vocation is to bear God’s image in the world.