Render Unto Caesar
Entering into this story doesn’t seem to be all that difficult. Jesus is likely with his disciples and others who are interested, imparting his teaching upon them when a group of Pharisee approach him with a question. He is used to this it seems, as they’re always trying to catch him off guard.
The question this time however gives him an even greater opportunity to explicate his teaching. The Pharisees come at him with a moral concern – the taxes they would pay to Caesar would no doubt be used, at least in part, to fund the ongoing oppression of their people. On the other hand, they come to him with a band of Herodians, those loyal to the King who had been imposed on them by Roman Empirical decree. It seems that Jesus is stuck between a rock and a hard place – there is seemingly nowhere for him to go. If he declares it immoral for the tax to be paid the Herodians will arrest him and have him turned over for persecution.
Jesus’ response however takes them well and truly off-guard. His response is to bring the issue back to a more fundamental principle. While he acknowledges that there are in fact temporal or earthly responsibilities that we as citizens must responsibly participate in, he encourages us not to get too caught up in that. Our primary responsibility as a citizen of the heavenly kingdom is to render to God what is His due.
For the image of Caesar is imprinted on the coin and thus in a certain sense, it belongs to him. But the image of God is imprinted on each and every one of us [Gen 1:26] and thus it is our duty to surrender ourselves, whole and entire – body, soul and will – to Him.
The final line of this story, not included in the reading for this Sunday reads: “When they heard it, they marvelled; and they left him and went away.” The words of Jesus here are marvellous indeed. Instead of allowing himself to be dragged into a muddy debate where he most certainly could not emerge cleanly, Jesus reframes the question encouraging both civic responsibility and religious devotion.
Am I taking care to ensure that I meet all my civic responsibilities?
Have I considered what it is that I owe to God? Am I prepared to give that to Him?
What would it look like to live a life of abandonment to God?
Is there anything holding me back?