Summary: Is paying taxes a participation in evil acts by human governments? What’s the difference between love and idolatry of a country? Let’s look at the moral dilemma of paying taxes in Matthew 22:15-22.
Is paying taxes a participation in evil acts by human governments? What’s the difference between love and idolatry of a country? Let’s look at the moral dilemma of paying taxes in Matthew 22:15-22.
To Pay Taxes
Matthew 22:15-17 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
It was a trap. A false dilemma or false dichotomy suggests that only one of two sides is right. But both may be right and wrong. In a false dichotomy truth is always a different option: In an immoral world we pay tribute to a corrupt Caesar and to God.
Matthew 22:18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?
Jesus answered insincere, obsequious flattery bluntly. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Why are you trying to trap me?” Pastor beware! When your new church flatters you, while vilifying the previous pastor, they will soon betray you. If they speak kindly of the previous pastor, they will also treat you with kindness.
Schmoozing may seem encouraging, but beware of the ambush. A trap was set for Jesus, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favorites.” Jesus was not fooled by blarney. When we are flattered, look out for the trap.
Matthew 22:19-20 Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”
The poor often lost their lands paying unjust, excessive Roman taxes, and did not want to serve a false god, Caesar. Roman coins were often labeled “Tiberius Caesar, Divine Augustus Son of Augustus” or “Caesar Augustus son of divinity, Father of his Country,” blasphemous claims which had caused tax revolts.
Render to Caesar
Matthew 22:21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Love of neighbor includes love of country AND what many forget, our foreign neighbors. Jesus was not asked about worshiping Caesar, but paying taxes. Whether the government is right or wrong, we still owe to the government what belongs to the government and to God the things that are God's.
Matthew 22:22 When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.
Jesus sidestepped the moral dilemma with a practical and brilliant answer. Where can we find such wisdom for today? On the one hand, wisdom is everywhere (Proverbs 1:20). On the other hand, it is a gift of God (Proverbs 2:6). We just need to ask (James 1:5)
It is impossible to live and work in this world without being tainted. Jesus’ answer addressed the practical reality of life in an evil world. We cannot change the whole world. We begin with ourselves, love our neighbors domestic and foreign, and prepare for our part in God’s heavenly reign.
Reference: Horsley, Richard A. Jesus and Empire. Augsburg Fortress 2003
New King James Version (NKJV) Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Exodus 33:12-23 God promised Moses, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Psalm 99 The Lord reigns; Let the peoples tremble! He dwells between the cherubim; Let the earth be moved!... Exalt the Lord our God, And worship at His holy hill; For the Lord our God is holy.
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 If “from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth” then lay people must play a vital role in the Gospel.
Off Lectionary: Revelation 2:18-29 Even in a corrupt church like Thyatira salvation is available to the faithful.
Matthew 22:15-22 in Rhyme
Pharisees plotted to trick Him
They went with the Herodians
Teacher, we know that You are true
And teach the way of God you do
And You don’t care about anyone
Nor regard the person of men
Tell us, therefore, what do You think?
Are taxes right or do they stink?
Jesus knew they were tricking Him
Called them hypocrites for their whim
Whose face on this denarius?
And whose inscription, let’s discuss?
So give to Caesar what is his
And give to God just what He says
And they marveled at what they heard
And went away without a word