In this story we see Jesus yet again in a difficult situation as the religious leaders seek to “trap” him into saying or doing something that will get him in trouble. “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” they ask him. Behind this seemingly innocent question is a nefarious agenda. If Jesus answers “Yes- pay taxes to Caesar” - then he would be seen as a supporter of the Roman occupation and he would lose his popularity among the people. If he answers “No- don’t pay your taxes,” then the leaders can report him as someone inciting sedition against the state. So either way they’ve got him- he will either lose his popularity or lose his life.
Though a brilliant answer, Jesus avoids both for now- although he will indeed lose both in the long run. But in his one sentence answer he suggests a counter-cultural relationship to government that Christians have sought to follow for many centuries. On the one hand, he affirms the place of the government and Christians call to support it- no matter how they may feel about it personally. On the other hand, Jesus calls Christians to a higher allegiance than the state, to the Kingdom of God, which claims all of our lives and the totality of our allegiance.
After a difficult and wearisome election season, we will do well to listen to Jesus and remind ourselves of our relationship to government, renew our allegiance to Jesus and his Kingdom, and take up our call once again to be an embassy of his Kingdom in the world.
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Luke 20: 19-2
The teachers of religious law and the leading priests wanted to arrest Jesus immediately because they realized he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers. But they were afraid of the people’s reaction.
Taxes for Caesar
20 Watching for their opportunity, the leaders sent spies pretending to be honest men. They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus. 21 “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you speak and teach what is right and are not influenced by what others think. You teach the way of God truthfully. 22 Now tell us—is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
23 He saw through their trickery and said, 24 “Show me a Roman coin. Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
25 “Well then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
26 So they failed to trap him by what he said in front of the people. Instead, they were amazed by his answer, and they became silent.