Mark 12: 13 – 17 Paying the poll-tax to Caesar

Mark 12: 13 – 17 Paying the poll-tax to Caesar

Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you preach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the poll-tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?’

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. ‘Why are you trying to trap me?’ he asked. ‘Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.’ They brought the coin, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’

‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’

And they were amazed at him.

*       *       *

“Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words.”

Mark has referred to previous opponents of Jesus as “chief priests, teachers of the law and elders.” Now he tells us of an encounter of Jesus with the Pharisees and Herodians.

They came to him and said, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity.

This looks respectful – but that’s just for the benefit of the crowd. The Pharisees and Herodians hate Jesus.

You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are;

The words seem to be flattering, making Jesus sound like a person of robust integrity; but they conceal a trap. The speakers are trying to lure Jesus into saying that it is unlawful to pay taxes to Caesar, in other words, to the occupying power, Rome.

Look at the different levels of truth in this sentence. At a surface level the words are true. Jesus was indeed a man of integrity who wasn’t swayed by others. However, the way the words are intended and the way they are spoken makes them a falsehood. The Pharisees and Herodians used them just as flattery to avoid antagonising the crowd. But underneath the falsehood lies a deeper truth; a truth about the Pharisees and Herodians themselves. In terms of their motivation, the words mean ‘You aren’t swayed by us. You pay no attention to who we are.’ This is what they really hate about Jesus.

but you preach the way of God in accordance with the truth.

Jesus does indeed preach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Even as the Pharisees and Herodians seek to trap Jesus, they bear unintentional witness to his goodness.

Is it right to pay the poll-tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?’

The trap is sprung. If Jesus says that the poll-tax should be paid to Rome he will lose credibility with his followers, who are all looking to him as their deliverer from Roman rule. If he says that it’s unlawful to pay the poll-tax, he will be denounced to the Roman authorities for sedition.

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy.

Jesus was used to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He would have seen through their trap even as they were flattering him

‘Why are you trying to trap me?’ he asked.

This is a very important question for each of the Pharisees and Herodians. They could have been listening to the words of life that Jesus brings. Instead, they’re trying to trap him.  

‘Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.’ They brought the coin, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’

As always, Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter. Coinage is issued by the authorities, in this case the Roman emperor. It carries both the emperor’s image, and an inscription. It is his guarantee of stability and good governance.

‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.

I imagine them as being puzzled by Jesus’ question. They possibly hesitated before answering.

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’

In effect, Jesus is saying that the Pharisees and Herodians are confusing the spiritual with the temporal. Money bears the image and inscription of the issuing authority. It is used for buying and selling, for raising taxation and for carrying out work for the common good. God, by contrast, is interested in the spiritual, that people should act justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with him.

And they were amazed at him.

*       *       *

This passage is relevant to how we read the bible. Do we read it to find inconsistencies, or to learn more about God’s will?

I think it’s necessary to read it carefully, but with faith. I struggle with much of it, especially in the Old Testament.

The passage from Mark’s gospel that I’ve been studying today prompts me to wonder if there is a different way of looking at the more bloodthirsty parts. Jesus can show me the true meaning of the passages, but I need to listen humbly to him. I love his message of love, and I want to put it into practice more perfectly. But I can only do this with his help.

Prayer

Heavenly Father

Your Holy Spirit teaches us your way in accordance with the truth. Please help me to listen, understand and obey all you have to tell me, so that I can draw ever closer to Jesus, in whose name I pray.

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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