I love the story of the attempt to trap Jesus by talking about taxes. It is so obvious that this would be a no-win scenario if Jesus were to answer the question in the yes/no way in which it was presented. And it is wonderful how Jesus demonstrates that wise as serpents aspect to the faith in his response to the questioners.
The legal experts and chief priests were watching Jesus closely and sent spies who pretended to be sincere. They wanted to trap him in his words so they could hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. They asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are correct in what you say and teach. You don’t show favoritism but teach God’s way as it really is. Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Since Jesus recognized their deception, he said to them, “Show me a coin. Whose image and inscription does it have on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” They couldn’t trap him in his words in front of the people. Astonished by his answer, they were speechless.
This is a conundrum of a question. If Jesus appeals to the Jewish identity and surging nationalism and says not to pay taxes, then the authorities can hand him to the Romans to be tried for treason. If, on the other hand, Jesus says to pay taxes, then he would lose credibility with his Jewish hearers as they feel oppressed by Rome and do not like collaborators with the enemy.
Yet look at what Jesus says. He does not say, as so many have interpreted this passage, that it is ok to have a division between our religious lives and our civic lives. That would be contrary to the very heart of the Gospel message that, in Christ, we are new creations and now live in the kingdom of God (albeit not fully). When we are in Christ, our ultimate allegiance is to God and we are held to God’s standard for all of our lives, civic and religious.
Rather, Jesus says that the coin was made in the image of Caesar and has Caesar’s name on it, therefore it should be given to Caesar. The implication then is that we ought to give God what is made in the image of God and has God’s name on it: us. Let the rulers of this world have all the rocks and hunks of metal they want, but give your very lives to God.
This is why the questioners were speechless. How do you argue against such piercing logic? And how do we defend ourselves before God for not completely obeying this statement?
I am speechless as well.