Summary: “Jesus said to them ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” Matt. 22:4-5.
Theme: Paying taxes
Text: Is. 45:1-6; 1 Thess. 4:1-5; Matt. 22:15-21
In the last three weeks we have looked at the parable of the Two Sons, the parable of the Tenants, and the parable of the Wedding Feast. In all these parables Jesus Christ kept referring to the lack of integrity in Israel’s religious leaders. They emerged in these parables as the discontented son, the evil tenants and the guest without the right wedding garment. Respectively they point to the inaction, the dishonesty and the standing of the Jewish leaders. In today’s Gospel reading we see the Pharisees and the Herodians embarking on their first counter-offensive. These two groups, normally opposed to each other, unite to oppose Christ and find a way to eliminate Him. They felt sure that asking Him a trick question about whether it was lawful for them to pay taxes to Caesar would end in success no matter what answer He gave. This was because while the Pharisees resented and opposed the payment of tax to Caesar, the Herodians accepted and supported it. The reason was that the Pharisees saw Israel as a sovereign state under God’s rule and therefore should not pay taxes to another king. On the other hand, the Herodians advocated the paying of taxes because they belonged to the political party of Herod, the king of Galilee, who owed his power to the Romans. Coming to Christ pretending to be sincere, they asked whether the paying taxes to Caesar was lawful or not. In other words whether a state under God’s leadership should be paying taxes to an earthly king.
A negative answer from the Lord would bring Christ before the Roman government for treason. A positive answer, on the other hand, would imply that he did not believe Israel was God’s chosen nation, which would be blasphemy. Moreover, a positive answer would enrage the people who disliked paying tax to the Roman Government. His critics believed that either answer He gave would convict Him. They were certain they had an exceptionally clever Catch 22 question. His critics also believed that this question would disprove Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, which they refused to accept. They would not accept what He did and who He claimed to be because His actions and claims did not fit their preconceptions of God.
I personally experienced a Catch 22 situation while in Germany. There was a time I needed to renew my work permit. When I went to renew my work permit I was told I could only do so if I renewed my stay permit. And when I went to renew my stay permit I was told I could only do so when I renewed my work permit. You just couldn’t win unless the Lord intervenes. In today’s gospel reading our Lord knew the intention of His critics. They could not fool Him and He replied them by first describing them as hypocrites. Hypocrisy is simply being someone else. It is claiming a virtue one does not have or playing a part that is not your real self. The part, or role the Pharisees were good at playing was that of holy people. Jesus, by calling them hypocrites, was implying that they really were not holy at all. The Pharisees were the good Churchgoers of their day and yet did they know God or understand His law. They looked at Jesus and were confused. They accepted that Jesus was honest and taught about the ways of God regardless of the consequences. They agreed with Jesus that God would judge evildoers and condemn them. What they could not understand and confused them was that Jesus associated with people who were obvious evildoers - prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterers, and many other sinners. The Pharisees just could not understand that. They were also uncertain about how to classify Jesus because he taught that obedience to God and his law was necessary yet he healed people and allowed his disciples to pick corn on the Sabbath day. Jesus also bothered them, because while He taught about the importance of holiness, a concept that was part of their faith, but He kept condemning the very people they considered holy. Jesus just did not fit into their neat little boxes, boxes that defined for them what was good and what was bad, what was holy and what was unholy. On this occasion Jesus again proved that they could not put Him into a box. He asked for the coin used to pay the Roman tax and was given a denarius. Jesus then asked them whose image and whose inscription was on the coin. Obviously they knew that the coin had the image and title of Caesar on it but they did not know this coin was the answer to their question. God’s ways and thoughts are far superior to that of man. We can never deceive or trick Him. He is all-powerful and all knowing. He knows everything about us because it is He who created us. Instead of deceiving ourselves or trying to deceive God, let us listen and submit our lives to Him.