What is a tax? In the best of circumstances, it’s a private payment for the public good. It’s how individuals contribute to the interests of the community of which they’re a part. In the time of the Roman empire, taxation among the occupied provinces was a troubling matter. It could be argued that what went into the pocket of Rome went out of the province for good.
Those who questioned Jesus about taxes, of course, weren’t asking for a moral decision. They wanted him to betray himself by being politically incorrect in front of the people. And Jesus, of course, was above politics, framing his answer in larger terms than the Pharisees cared to consider. Those who are obliged to Caesar should certainly make payment in the coin of the realm. But those who are obliged to God – and who isn’t – owe a debt to be paid in the province of the human spirit. It is this larger obligation that should capture our concern.
Do we commit more of our time, energy, and resources to Caesar or to God?
What do we currently give to Caesar that belongs to God?
Consider making a new tithe to God. Allot a portion of your time to worship, contemplation and spiritual reading. Give a portion of your wealth to the needy. Spend a portion of your energy on a just cause.
(Matthew 22: 18-22 The question about paying taxes)
Jesus knew they were up to no good. He said, ‘Why are you playing these games with me? Why are you trying to trap me? Do you have a coin? Let me see it’. They handed him a silver piece. ‘This engraving – who does it look like? And whose name is on it?’ They said, ‘Caesar’. ‘Then give Caesar what belongs to Caesar; and give God what belongs to God’. The Pharisees were speechless. They went off shaking their heads.
I heard a little girl in the supermarket pleading with her mother, ‘Please, please, please, buy me the chocolate biscuits!’ she wailed. And then she decided to set the trap. ‘Will you buy me the biscuits, or do you hate me?’ she asked.
Kids are good at setting their parents up with trick questions. ‘Can I go to the party, or do you want me to be the most unpopular person in the history of Mary MacKillop Catholic College?’ ‘Can I get my belly button pierced, or do I have to be a dork my whole life?’
The Pharisees, showing their own spiritual immaturity, tried to do the same thing to Jesus. ‘Should you honour God or honour the emperor?’ In childish fashion, they made sure to ask this when the emperor’s toadies were part of the crowd.
Smart parents will follow Jesus’ lead and simply avoid getting trapped into choosing between false alternatives. The most loving thing to do is simply not play the game. Or better yet, turn the game around to show the unfairness of the questions. ‘I love you so much,’ a dad might say, ‘that I wouldn’t dream of buying biscuits that are bad for you’. Jesus invited his listeners to consider the deeper questions involved: What belongs to Caesar? What belongs to God? Now there are some worthwhile questions to wrestle with.
One of the greatest witnesses to giving God God’s due was the early Christian martyrs. Catherine, who gives her name to the ‘Catherine Wheel’ firework, was born of a noble family and lived in the fourth century. The emperor was attracted to her and wanted to marry her. Catherine refused because she was already a ‘bride of Christ’. She is said to have disputed with 50 philosophers whose job it was to convince her of her error and she defeated them. Because she refused to do as commanded by the emperor she was tortured by being fastened to a large wheel and driven around the arena – but the wheel broke, Finally she was beheaded.
God will go with you every step of the way!
God’s energy to invigorate you, God’s judgement to direct you, God’s Word to instruct you,
God’s peace to enfold you, God’s love in Jesus Christ to secure you.
We go from this place refreshed, and ready for God’s work.
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