15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “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 others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “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.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. (NIV)
The Pharisees hated that the Romans were in Judea. They tried to be as separate from all things Roman as they possibly could.
The Herodians, were a group of Jews who cooperated quite fully with the Roman empire. They were fans of having the benefits of the empire in Judea.
They could not have been further apart politically or socially.
But together they see an opportunity to trick Jesus.
Jesus (who will later make the Jew and the Gentile one) has given the Herodians and the Pharisees a common goal and brought them together.
They ask Jesus a tricky question. Is it right to pay the imperial tax?
You can imagine the snickers, and the feeling of glee as they think they’ve got this rabbi trapped. He can’t possibly win with a question like this.
Option One: Jesus says, “Yes it is right to pay the Imperial Tax”
Result One: Jesus is conspiring with the Romans and worshiping the Caesar and is therefor an Idolater and a traitor to Israel.
Option Two: Jesus says, “No, don’t pay the Imperial Tax”
Result Two: Jesus is a rebel, a zealot, trying to overthrow the Roman Empire.
Jesus responds with a question. He first asks to see a Roman Coin, a denarius.
“Whose image is on this coin?”
For both the Herodians and the Pharisees, this single word, “image” may have triggered something in their religious memory. Because one of the earliest stories in the Torah is that Female and Male, human beings are made in God’s image.
The narrative of the Torah is that made in God’s image women and men are to reveal what God is like to all of creation. We were made vice-kings and vice-queens with God, to take care of the creation and each other.
The narrative of the Torah is that as God’s image bearers, we are to love God with all our hearts, with all our minds, with all our strength and all our soul.
So Jesus says, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.
In other words, Caesar’s picture is on this coin, but God’s picture is on you.
So, if you need to pay the imperial tax, go ahead. But give your all to God, your body, your time, your heart, your mind, your everything.
When I was studying French in High School I loved reading the adventures of Asterix and Obelix, two Gaul’s from a village in France that held out against the Romans for a long time.
There is a medieval “urban legend” about the Gauls and how they came to faith in Christ and were baptized that gives a good picture of what we do when we don’t give our whole selves to God.
The Gauls were famous for being incredibly violent and tough people. They were a challenging group for Rome to conquer, and they were a difficult group for the early missionaries to reach. But eventually many of the Gauls were baptized.
The legend says that when the Gaul’s were baptized they would raise one hand high above their heads, so that as the rest of their body was made new in Christ, they could claim that this arm was still the old self, and could act in the violent and tough way that it was used to. Yes the rest of their body could be the new creation. But this arm was still the old, violent self.
I don’t think that most of us are that explicit about keeping things back from God. But I do think that there are areas of our life that we don’t want God messing around in. Yes, I’ll put some money in the offering plate, but I don’t want God to mess with how I spend my money Monday – Saturday.
Yes, I’ll serve communion on Sunday, but I don’t want to think about the people that are hungry and lonely in my community other days of the week.
But we are God’s image bearers, we as women and as men are meant to show the world what God is like. And we don’t do that well when we only give a part of ourselves to the Kingdom.
So listen O people, the Lord is God, the Lord alone: and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind.