Summary: Jesus is in a Catch 22 position when he is asked "should we pay taxes to Caesar or not", See how he deals with it and what effect this can have on our lives


Story: A man came to an Anglican Church and asked to see the Vicar.

“Vicar,” he said, “My dog died and I would like a Christian burial for him.”

The Vicar said, “I’m sorry to hear about your dog, but we Anglicans don’t do funerals for dogs. You might try the Baptist church down the street. Baptists will do most anything.”

Or the Pentecostals.

The man turned sadly and said, “I’m sorry you won’t do my dog’s funeral, but I understand. I’ll try the Baptist church.

But would you tell me how much would it be appropriate give the Baptist Church as a memorial if they do the funeral?

I was thinking of a gift of £10,000.

Do you think that is enough?

“Wait a minute,” the Vicar said. “You didn’t tell me that your dog was Anglican…”

At first blush you might think that our Gospel reading this morning is just another story of religious leaders making a grubby play for money.

But I would like to suggest to you that it is NOT.

Money is blamed for much but this time it is not to blame for this confrontation.

It is just a convenient cudgel, so the religious leaders thought to attack Jesus’ standing with

Without knowing what is implicit in the background you cannot understand what is going on.

The religious leaders were out to neutralise Jesus when they came up to him and said:

“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. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” (Mt 22;16-17)

On the face of it, it seems a simple story, but there is a lot of skulduggery in the background.


Firstly, look at the two parties who opposed Jesus on this occasion: the Pharisees and the Herodians.

The subtlety of the situation has been lost to us over the centuries.

In any other situation, these two groups wouldn’t have passed the time of day with each other.

The Pharisees were “devout” Jews. They were sworn enemies of the Romans and vigorously opposed Roman rule.

And they stood against paying taxes to Caesar.

The Herodians, on the other hand, were the party of that Roman stooge, Herod.

They were the wealthy and privileged class who gladly collaborated with the enemy - helping them rule the Jews - in exchange for status and power in society.

So they would have no problems in paying taxes to Caesar!!

The adage: “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.” was certainly true that day.

The enemies of Rome and friends of Rome were united in their opposition to Jesus.

And so they put the “Catch 22” question to Jesus

Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” (Mt 22:17)

At first blush it looks quite an innocent question.

If you asked me today if we should pay council taxes or not – I wouldn’t have any problems giving you an answer!!!

But if Jesus said “Yes” or “No” he was in trouble.

Let’s look at the background:

The tax that they are referring was the “poll tax” – and we know how popular “poll taxes “ can be – even in recent history.

You may recall that the introduction of the “poll tax” was the downfall of Margaret Thatcher!

The first Century “poll tax” was payable directly to Caesar.

It was one denarius - about one day’s wage.

Of all the taxes of the day, this “poll tax” was most problematic for the Jews.

The “poll tax” of all the taxes was unique in that it required the use of Roman currency to pay the tax.

And the Roman coins that bore the objectionable image of Caesar.

As one commentator put it

The coin was particularly objectionable to the pious Jews because it bore the “graven image” of Caesar, and an inscription describing him as “son of a god”. So in effect contravening the First of the Ten Commandments. (Matthew - R.T. France p.314-315).

In contrast, for everyday commerce, special copper coins were used, without these features.

So the objectionable coinage was only used to pay the “poll tax”.

So Jesus had a real dilemma if he answered this question

1. If he said “yes” it is right to pay taxes to Caesar

He would be in trouble

Jesus had a great following among pious Jews> And it was these Jews who found the poll tax particularly offensive.

So if Jesus said: “Yes, it is fine to pay the tax to Caesar”, he risked losing his popular power base.

2. If he were to answer, “No, you should not pay Caesar anything”,

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