Chapter 22 in Matthew’s gospel highlights the increasing tension between Jesus and the religious authorities of his time. Each group, in turn, raises a question which they hope will “trap” Jesus. First, the Pharisees and the Herodians ask Jesus about paying taxes to the Emperor. Next, the Sadducees will test Jesus with a ridiculous scenario about the resurrection from the dead. Finally, one of the scholars of the law will pose a question about ranking the greatest commandment among the 613 commands of the Old Testament.
The trap about paying tax to the Emperor is that Jesus either looks like he is supporting a pagan occupying force by paying the tax or is guilty of insurrection by not paying the tax. It is also important to realize that for the Romans, the Emperor Caesar is a god. Julius Caesar was proclaimed a god (a human manifestation of the god Jupiter) posthumously in 42 B.C.
Jesus deftly answers the challenge about whether it is lawful to pay tax in two ways. First, Jesus asks for a coin. It is Jesus’ opponents who possess this coin with Caesar’s image on it, which, of course, breaks the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Secondly, Jesus asks, “Whose image is this?” When they reply, “Caesar’s,” Jesus says, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” In other words, if this coin “belongs” to Caesar, then give it to him. But the whole world “belongs” to God and is under God’s authority. Indeed, from Genesis, humans are made in the “image” of God and “belong” totally to God.
As we approach a new week, we might think about the image of God that has been imprinted upon each of us. What an incredible thought…that each of us is made in the image and likeness of God. Surely, this realization will impact not only how we view ourselves, but also how we view others.