The Bible passage for today can be read here.
I managed to catch part of an Indiana Jones film recently and it made me really uncomfortable. I think it was something I picked up watching it the first time around (although that may be wishful thinking) but seeing it again, it was very obvious. It was the way this film from the mid-1980s portrayed non-white people. It was just my perception, but it seemed that every Indian was; evil, stupid or a hapless victim. It would be easy to slip into the same sort of thinking when viewing Jesus’ discussions with the Jewish teachers of his day. They opposed Jesus – they must be stupid. The truth is, these were very clever people, or at least some of them were, and the question we are looking at today was brilliant, from their point of view, simple, direct and brilliant.
Roman taxes were high, 33% according to Zondervan’s NIV Commentary, and they were funding a foreign state, so they would have been very unpopular. If Jesus said taxes should be paid, he would upset the people who hated everything about Rome. If on the other hand he said taxes should not be paid, he would be seen as leading a rebellion (this is one of many false accusations made against him; 23:2). It was a trap of course but a very good one.
We’re in the run up to an election in the UK and it’s clear there are some questions the politicians do not want to answer. They are well trained of course so they sidestep the questions and talk about somethings else. Jesus was different and his answer brutally honest.
First, Jesus asked to see a denarius and asked ‘Whose portrait and inscription are on it?’ The coin bore Caesar’s image and Jesus instructed his hearers to give to Caesar what belonged to Caesar. There were benefits to being part of the Roman Empire and Jesus endorsed civic responsibility just as Paul would later in Romans 13:1-7(there is a recent sermon on Romans 13 on our Church website). It may not have been a popular thing to say but Jesus never courted popularity.
The second part of the answer would have been deeply challenging to those who heard it and I would suggest to us as well. The religious authorities were astonished by his answer and stunned to silence; give to God what is God’s.
In our journey through Luke’s Gospel, I’ve became increasingly conscious that Jesus’ thinking is not like mine. He is constantly teaching about being focused on the things of God and not the things of this life. In John 6:63 he says; ‘The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.’ Giving to Caesar is easy; it’s in giving to God that we struggle. Just as the coin bore the image of Caesar, we bear the image of God, we belong to him. If we give him everything we are not doing him a favour, we are only doing what is appropriate.
“Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.” (When I Survey the Wondrous Cross – Isaac Watts)