KEY TEXT: Matthew 22:18-22 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
KEY THOT: It's interesting how the Pharisee's disciples and the Herodians described Jesus to set him up for their trick question: "Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances" (v.16). They described Jesus as a teacher who taught the way of God without compromising the truth to please anyone. Jesus was totally truthful and authentic--he was not swayed by anyone's opinion of him and their appearances. That is a a marvelous description of how we ought to be too--uncompromising in our teaching and not swayed by human opinions nor appearances. Not doing or saying something to be politically correct is the heart of integrity. In that portrayal of Jesus as God's man, they gave us a portrait of moral leadership.
Of course, their motive was to force Jesus to answer without being equivocal when they sprang their trick question: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" They thought Jesus' answer would either be Yes or No. If Jesus answered "yes", then His followers would accuse him of being a traitor to the nation; if He answered "no", then the Roman authorities who were listening in would arrest him as a subversive and a security threat. But they did not anticipate a third possible answer: neither. Jesus asked for a coin for the tax (denarius) and asked whose face was inscribed on the coin. When they said it was Caesar's, His answer confounded and astounded them: "Therefore, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's"! (v.21).
Jesus did not avoid answering their question; but His answer exposes their insincerity and lack of understanding in the things of God. As citizens of two kingdoms (earthly and heavenly), we have responsibilities within each realm. As citizens of the earthly kingdom and state, we have legal and social obligations to the governing authorities. Jesus expects us His people to submit to the government who has been installed to provide social order and peace in the country. So, we need to pay our taxes and not avoid or evade taxes.
But as citizens of the heavenly kingdom, we also have moral and spiritual obligations to God. We owe it to God to keep His commands beyond the laws of the land. Ultimately, our obligations as heavenly citizens to God and His laws must take precedence over obligation to human laws when the two are in conflict. But where human laws do not undermine or violate God's laws, we have an obligation to keep them too--especially if these laws are given to preserve social order and peace in the land.
Abba-Father, may You grant us wisdom from above, so that when faced with apparent conflicts of interests between our earthly and heavenly citizenship, we may respond wisely without compromising Your truth. For Jesus' sake, Amen.