“The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?’” (Matthew 22: 15 – 17).
Jesus’ parables to chief priests and elders over the last few readings depicted them as the second son who did not fulfill his father’s wishes and as the tenants who killed the king’s messengers. These religious leaders tried, in the conversation recorded in this reading, to put Jesus in a no-win situation.
If Jesus said that it was permissible to pay taxes to Caesar, the crowds would see him as siding with the Roman occupation. If he said it was not permissible, then the Herodians (who collaborated with the Romans) could denounce him to the authorities.
“Knowing their malice, Jesus said, ‘Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax’” (Matthew 22:18).
The Jewish custom was that the only valid currency in the Temple was official Temple money. Roman coins minted with the head of Caesar portrayed him as a demi-god, and this image of a false god was explicitly forbidden by the First Commandment. These Pharisees and Herodians, by having Roman coins in their possession, dared to breach the First Commandment within the Temple! Doing this showed their acceptance of the financial advantages to them of the Roman occupation of Palestine.
“He said to them, ‘Whose image is on this and whose inscription?’ They replied, ‘Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22: 20-21).
Those willing to use Caesar’s coin should repay him in kind, as they received their money from Caesar. Jesus raised the debate to a new level by bringing up repaying God. The Pharisees and the Herodians should be more concerned with repaying God with the good deeds that are due to Him.
Jesus challenges us to look at where we get our money and how we spend it. This reveals our true priorities.
- Has our money, as it did with the Pharisees and Herodians, entered the space of the sacred? Do we find fulfillment in making money and buying things, instead of in our faith and in doing good deeds?
- How do you spend your money? What does it tell you about your values and priorities?
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International