Sunday, October 16, 2011

Paying Taxes



Have you heard the quote “Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”? This comes from the story in Matthew 22. Jesus has been talking in parables to answer many of the accusations that the Pharisees, chief priests and elders make. He catches them up every time, of course, and they get angrier and angrier. They decide to lay plans to trap Jesus in his words.

The Pharisees, who are traditionalists and ritualists, send their lesser known disciples off to team up with the Herodians. The Herodians, who supported the Roman authority in Palestine, were actually the Pharisees’ enemies. The two groups try flattery and praise to begin with: they say, “Teacher, we know that you are a MAN OF INTEGRITY and that YOU TEACH the way of God IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE TRUTH. YOU AREN’T SWAYED by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.” Ah, they think they’re so clever. I especially like the last phrase because it’s sort of an underhanded poke at the way Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes.

After the flattery they get to their big question: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? This is like the old “Have you stopped beating your wife” question. If Jesus says it’s right to pay taxes to Rome they will claim that then he cannot be the Messiah. If he says no, then they will report him to Rome as an insurrectionist.

Of course, Jesus knows their evil intent. He calls them hypocrites and asks them to show him a coin that is used for paying taxes. He doesn’t ask for any old coin. There were specific coins used for paying taxes to Rome and different ones for the temple taxes. Clearly they could see Caesar’s image on the Roman coin, the denarius, that he asked for. Jesus says, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Lesson for me: pay my taxes without resentment. Give to God what is God’s. Hmm, would that be everything else?