Paying the Imperial Tax to Caesar
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.
Reflection, by Fr Aldo, sx
The question posed by the opponents of Jesus is very tricky and they were undoubtedly confident that Jesus would not find a way out of it. On one hand, if he says that no taxes are to be paid to Cesar, he would certainly be reported to the Roman authorities as a subversive. On the other hand, if he declares himself in favor of paying those taxes, he would attract the antipathy of the people in general who hated the Romans as colonizers.
However, Jesus not only gets out of the trap; he gives a lesson on at least two valuable principles of life and still, somehow, teases his opponents. Yes, the Pharisees and the Herod sympathizers did not realize that Jesus was making fun of them when he asked them to show him a coin. They ingenuously put their hands in their pocket and display one with the face of Cesar imprinted on it. By doing this they show that they possess and use such idolatrous object which they pretended to despise so much. They are so scrupulous when it comes to religion, but on the day-to-day life they go to the market and use the Cesar’s money to buy and sell anything. It is indeed funny that, now, when the issue is to pay taxes, their religion becomes so important.
The first lesson Jesus passes on to us is related to the idea that taxes are to be paid. “Give to Cesar what belongs to Cesar.” The payment of just taxes is in fact, more than civil, a moral obligation towards contributing to the common good. Nothing can justify the sabotage and stealing of goods that belong to the State. In any kind of society, no matter the political and economic system chosen by their government leaders, the followers of Jesus Christ should always be role models of social responsibility. They do have the right to give suggestions, disagree, criticize and point out the errors being committed, but they have no right to act in a way that civil society is put in danger. There is always a correct and due process to be followed in everything; and one ought to be aware that the concerns for the betterment of society are not always genuine. Sometimes they can easily become just a subterfuge that safeguards selfish individual interests.Furthermore, Jesus presents also a revolutionary amendment: “Give to God what belongs to God.” The Pharisees ask if it is lawful or not to pay taxes to the emperor. Thus the verb of the question is “to pay.” But the verb of Jesus’ answer is “to give” in the sense of restitution. Jesus’ listeners were possessing something illegally that actually belonged to God and they ought to return it. What is it?
The logic of Jesus is very simple. The coin is to be given back to Cesar because it has his image imprinted on it. Now, there is a creature who was created after the image and likeness of God, therefore that creature belongs to God and is to be returned to him. That creature is the human person made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27). This creature should not belong to