About Paying Your Taxes

TaxesWhat are imitation rhinestones?

What do batteries run on?

What do chickens think we taste like?

What do penguins wear for play clothes?

What do people in China call their good plates?

What do sheep count when they can’t get to sleep?

What do they call a French kiss in France?

A teacher trying to open the floor of his classroom to discussion, says:  “There is no such thing as a dumb question!”  In that context – in the learning environment – he is absolutely correct.  If you want to learn a subject about which you carry a fair amount of ignorance, ASK QUESTIONS.

Sometimes, however, we ask questions not to learn from others, but to SHOW OFF – to reveal how smart we think we are.  In Luke 20, Jesus faces three sets of questions from people who thought they already knew everything they thought they needed to know.  They did not ask questions to learn or clarify information.  They asked questions in the attempt to trick and to trap Jesus.

The Pharisee’s had been the first up.  They came to Jesus with a rather direct challenge:  “Who gave you the right to do what you are doing and saying what you are saying?”  We explore this exchange in a prior post.

Next up is a wider branch of the religious establishment, though certainly among them were the scribes.  They were the supposed experts in the text.  They were lawyers – folks who spent most of their waking days exploring what it meant to be faithful to God.

They come to Jesus with a question – a trick question: 

Now, if Jesus has said:  “No!  It is not lawful to pay your taxes, the crowd might have cheered, but the Roman soldiers and officials would have been ‘Johnny-on-the-spot’, ready to arrest Jesus as an insurrectionist.  The scribes would have had a way to get rid of Jesus without lifting a finger.

If, on the other hand, Jesus has said:  “Yes, it is lawful to pay your taxes!” he would have lost the crowd’s support.  They hated paying taxes.

Understand, however, that they aversion to paying taxes was bigger than simply wanting to keep their cash in their own pockets.  There was something theological happening here.

“Bring me a coin!” Jesus said.  (I always have found it interesting that Jesus seemed to get along just fine without any coins in his pocket.  That’s not the point of this blog post, it’s just a little extra for us to think about.)

“Bring me a coin!”

There were two temple currencies floating about at the time, according to one of my college religion professors.  There was the temple currency.  (Remember that when the “common people” came to the temple to offer sacrifices, their first stop was at the table of the money changers.  They had to trade in their nasty Roman cash for the more holy, righteous, and faithful TEMPLE currency.)

Roman coins has the engraved image of Caesar on one side.  Caesar had called himself God.  Remember all those  commandments about “No other God” and “No engraved images”?  That made the use of Caesar’s money an act of worship.  You see how this is a theological issue and not just economics?

So Caesar’s money was not allowed in the temple.  Oh, and it was not to find its way into the hands of God’s most loyal and faithful followers.

“Bring me a coin!”

They reach in their pocket and produce a coin.

“Whose face is inscribe on the coin?”

“Caesars” – and when they answered, Jesus had them.

They had come to trapped Jesus in a theological, political, economic entanglement over the payment of taxes.  Yet when they reached in their pockets and produce a Roman coin with Caesar’s image, rather than a Temple coin that contained no such engraved image, their revealed their duplicity.  They had already fallen into the trap they were trying to push Jesus into.

Jesus says, “Give Caesars what belongs to Caesar and give God what belongs to God!”

That left the people who were watching this unfold – and especially the religious crowd who brought Jesus this test – with two difficult questions to wrestle with.  Maybe we should wrestle with them as well.

In what ways do our lives reveal a similar sense of duplicity?

“Give to God what belongs to God!”  So, what exactly does belong to God?

Or perhaps:  “What does not belong to God?”




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