bible blog 1214

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news

Cameron mocked in China as friend of Dalai Lama

Opposed to Chinese rule in the name of Buddha

Opposed to Chinese rule in the name of Buddha

Matthew 22:15-22

New English Translation (NET)

Paying Taxes to Caesar

15 Then the Pharisees went out and planned together to entrap him with his own words. 16 They sent to him their disciples along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful, and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You do not court anyone’s favor because you show no partiality. 17 Tell us then, what do you think? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus realized their evil intentions and said, “Hypocrites! Why are you testing me? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought him a denarius. 20 Jesus said to them, “Whose image is this, and whose inscription?” 21 They replied, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 Now when they heard this they were stunned, and they left him and went away.

This is not, as classic Christian commentary interpreted it, a neat division of civil and religious responsibility. For a start Caesar was a foreign conqueror. So the question is more like a Frenchman asking in 1942, “Is it right to pay taxes to Hitler?” That shows up the dangerous nature of the topic. Jesus first answer is , “Show me a coin.” This apparently innocent request reveals that his questioners are using Roman money, whereas very strict Jews or zealots refused to do so, not least because it bore an idolatrous image of Caesar. The prohibition against “graven images” was as powerful a disincentive to the use of such coins as patriotism.Jesus’ second answer rubs it in, “Whose image is this?” Already he exposes his questioners as hypocritical; they have already answered their own question; they have accepted Roman rule as a fact. Jesus does not criticise them for this; nor is there any record of his own practice in this regard, although as a tradesman he would almost certainly have paid the tax. 

caesarHis criticism is more fundamental. Caesar may stamp his idolatrous image on a coin, and if you’re using his coinage you may as well pay his tax, but God has stamped his image on every human being from whom he requires a fundamental allegiance. It is not a neat division into separate realms. A clash between duty to God and duty to Caesar was for Jesus no contest: God is also the God of Caesar. There’s no doubt that the early Christian communities understood Jesus’ teaching in this respect. They recognised the authority of Roman government but they they utterly opposed giving honour to Caesar as a God.

Jesus meant that that his hearers’ lives belonged to God. If they thought paying taxes to a an imperial power was compatible with that belonging, well, they should do so. It’s no surprise that Jesus’ grasp of the issue, his ready wit and brevity, left his questioners “stunned.” But if we return to 1942, we may imagine that a member of the French Resistance would not have been overly impressed with Jesus’ position. It’s clear however, that faced with titleRoman interrogation, Jesus would not deny his own right to rule under God and was therefore crucified as “king of the Jews.” His “political” opposition to Roman rule was not in the name of Israel nor of any political ideology, but solely in the name of God who created human beings in his image and likeness.

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