Luke 20: 20 – 26 Paying taxes to Caesar

Luke 20: 20 – 26 Paying taxes to Caesar

Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power of the governor. So the spies questioned him: ‘Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’

He saw through their duplicity and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose image and superscription are on it?’

‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.

He said to them, ‘Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’

They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.’

*       *       *

In Luke 20: 1 – 8, we saw how the chief priests and teachers of the law were wrong-footed by Jesus asking them whether John the Baptist’s baptism was from heaven or from human origin. They didn’t dare deny the heavenly origin of John’s baptism for fear the crowd around Jesus would stone them.

Now, they’ve crafted a question that they imagine will put Jesus in the same position. “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” If Jesus says the tax is illegal and shouldn’t be paid, they will tell the Roman governor. They would present the answer as indicating that Jesus plans a rebellion, and is making inflammatory claims.

But will he dare to say that the tax is legal, in front of his supporters? The Messiah, the saviour of Israel, surely can’t agree with paying taxes to the occupying power? It would ruin his credibility with the crowd.

Before we consider Jesus’ answer, let’s just look at the motivation of the Jewish leaders.

If Jesus says, “Don’t pay tax to Rome,” they will betray him to Rome. They are acting as friends of Roman rule. Why are they doing this? Because the political situation in which they are living favours them. They have power and influence; they interpret the law under which all Jews live. The huge contradiction in their position is that they are conniving to consolidate the rule of pagans (the Romans) over God’s chosen people of Israel.

And if Jesus says, “Pay tax to Rome,” they have forced him to endorse the legitimacy of Roman rule. Once again, they are acting as Rome’s agents. This is typically what happens when people act in bad faith.

Jesus, though, is having none of it. Unlike the Jewish leaders, he’s not intimidated by the crowd.

He saw through their duplicity and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose image and superscription are on it?’

‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.

He said to them, ‘Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’

With a dramatic flourish he points to the image and superscription on a coin. They are Caesar’s. Taxation is the prerogative of a ruler. Whether or not you agree with the purposes of the tax, you have to pay it. That’s just the way life is.

When they asked the question, the emissaries of the Jewish leaders prefaced it with the words, ‘Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.’

Jesus answer does exactly that, by implying that the solution to the world’s ills is not a political one, it is a spiritual one. His answer is dismissive. Caesar’s currency? Caesar’s taxes? Not something to worry about. ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’

Jesus puts the emphasis back solidly on the spiritual.

And that is where our emphasis must be; on the spiritual.

Prayer

Heavenly Father

Please send your Holy Spirit to bring us into all truth, that we may discern the things that matter to you, and stop being distracted by the irrelevant.

In Jesus name, Amen

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

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