Today’s gospel scripture presents Jesus in a battle of wits with the religious leaders of the people. The Pharisees and the Herodians come together to trap Jesus.
They create a question about Roman Taxation that was an issue that could easily cause people to take sides. It’s with this issue that the religious leaders hope to ensnare Jesus. They begin with words of flattery; “Teacher, we know that you are sincere”, and then they set their trap, “Tell us then, what do you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?’ The trap is that if Jesus says NO, then he’ll be accused of political insubordination that might incite others to respond and follow. If he says YES, he’ll appear to have relinquished Israel’s claim of being a people bound only to God.
Jesus is not taken in by their flattery. He knows what they’re trying to do and he knows what’s at stake. They not only want to shame him in the eyes of the people; they also hope to put him in political jeopardy. In his response Jesus shames THEM by calling them hypocrites and then he unmasks what they’re up to. He asks for a coin that can be used to pay the poll tax. The coin, was abhorrent to the Jews because it had the image of Caesar on it along with titles that gave him political honour as well as divine status. Jesus asks them the question “whose head is this and whose title? Then they acknowledge that the coin contains the image of Caesar. He directs them “to give back” or “to repay” what is owed to both Caesar and God.
“Give to the Emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Jesus is saying that we can be loyal to a religious tradition and to a secular power. It may be difficult at times, especially when their claims seem to conflict, but it is possible. In his response Jesus gains honour in the eyes of the people, while his questioners are disgraced. The awesome words of Jesus contain a powerful religious message;
“Give to God what belongs to God.”
The implication of these words is that God’s name and inscription is on all of us; we are all made in the image and likeness of God. Just as we pay our tribute to earthly rulers; we must give appropriate allegiance to God. God is at the heart of Creation; knowing this can give us huge courage in times of anxiety. In our turbulent and troubled world where we don’t know what’s going to happen next, we can have hope because life can never get out of control because God is always in control.
“Give to God the things that are God’s.”
As we live our lives day by day, let us not only give earthly powers what belongs to them, but let us be sure to give to God, the God of our past, the God of our present and the God of our future the love and the trust that rightly belongs to him.
The challenge as always – make God the centre of your life and living.
Monsignor Paul Farmer
St Benedict’s Church