In Matthew 22:15-22, the Pharisees asked Jesus about paying taxes using a Roman coin which proclaimed Tiberius Caesar as divine. The Pharisees resented paying with Roman coin, calling it blasphemous. Yet they wouldn’t go as far as to publicly resist paying. To trap Jesus, they asked if it is lawful to pay the tax. If he says, “yes” he angers the Jewish nationalists who resist paying. If he says, “no” he upsets the Romans and could be arrested. It was a no-win situation. The Pharisees thought they had him.
It is not against the Torah (the first five books of our Bible) to pay taxes to the emperor. Knowing the sinister intent behind the question, Jesus calls for one of the coins asking, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” They replied it was Caesar’s. And Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Jesus wasn’t saying we must always respect worldly authority. There are times when their actions are so evil (against God’s intention) that we must resist. The Bible teaches us to honor human law when it doesn’t require us to deny God’s law. God is our ultimate authority. So Jesus, thwarting their plan to trap him, gave neither a “yes” or “no” answer. It was left to Pharisees to decide which is lawful and right according to their understanding of God’s intent.
In the news, there is resistance to a lockdown of businesses. We are told it is born out of a strong sense of basic need and the concern for an economic depression. On the other hand, we’re told by authorities the reason for the lockdown is a concern that a virus, against which we have no immunities, would spread so rapidly that hospitals will be overwhelmed. In both cases, people will suffer. It is a no-win situation. Which position is right?
Give to Caesar, that which is Caesar’s--and give to God that which is God’s. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:10-11) May God guide our choices.