One day the power players of the day set out to trap Jesus. They cleverly devised a question that could be only answered in a way that would either paint Jesus as a rebel or a Roman sympathizer. The question was preceded with flattery and puffed up praise. “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” They asked. But Jesus was no one’s fool and saw through their camouflage of praise. It is in Jesus’ answer that we find our next Jesus Says command.
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:15–22, NIV)
The wisdom on display in Jesus’ answer is blindingly brilliant. He took their trap and trapped them instead. Sometimes we’re so awed by the answer that we fail to see that His command, applies to us as well.
There are of course two parts to the command. The first answers the underlying question of the power players about paying taxes to a despotic, world hungry, oppressive government. To that Jesus says to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Even in the best of governments, we can disagree with how our taxes are spent. So, the bottom line here is to pay our taxes.
The second half of Jesus’ response should shake the world. According to Genesis, humanity is created in the image of God. There is a divine spark in the human experience. A shared moral compass of fairness and compassion. A desire to create. A bent towards bringing order into chaos. Those are the stamp of God on the clay of humanity. Many, of course, do not live according to this stamp of God. And no one lives according to it all the time. That’s the confusing duality of humanity and the life we all experience.
Since we are all stamped with the image of God Jesus Says that like returning to Caesar the coin bearing his image we must give back to God ourselves. The act of turning ourselves over to God solves our confusing duality. We stop going our own way. We stop stressing over our own desires. We stop the battles over turf, over pride, over power, and over honor. We release as one poet put it “our better angels.” We find compassion, express mercy, grant grace, and show love. And it is a struggle to maintain since it is easy to fall back into the habit of holding back from God.
As we give ourselves to God we don’t lose ourselves as some would suppose, we gain ourselves. We find the real, meaningful, and purposeful life that God intends for all. But we must be clear, that path towards God is through Jesus who gave Himself for us all. You see, Jesus also rendered unto God what was God’s.
Jesus says give to God what is God’s