15 Then the Pharisees went and took counsel how to entangle him in his talk. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said,, "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the money for the tax." And they brought him a coin. 20 And Jesus said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" 21 They said, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." 22 When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away.
Meditation: What do we owe God and our neighbor? Scripture
tells us to give to everyone whatever is their due and to "owe no
one anything, except to love one another" (Romans 13:6-8). The
Jewish authorities sought to trap Jesus in a religious-state
issue. The Jews resented their foreign rulers and despised paying
taxes to Caesar. They posed a dilemma to test Jesus to see if he
was loyal to them and to their understanding of religion. If Jesus
answered that it was lawful to pay taxes to a pagan ruler, then he
would lose credibility with the Jewish nation who would regard him
as a coward and a friend of Caesar. If he said it was not lawful,
then the Pharisees would have grounds to report him to the Roman
authorities as a political trouble-maker and have him arrested.
Coins inscribe the owner's name and authority on them
Jesus avoided their trap by confronting them with the image of a coin. Coinage in the ancient world had significant political power. Rulers issued coins with their own image and inscription on them. In a certain sense the coin was regarded as the personal property of the ruler. Where the coin was valid the ruler held political sway over the people. Since the Jews used the Roman currency, Jesus explained that what belonged to Caesar must be given to Caesar.
We have been "stamped" with God's image and likeness
This story has another deeper meaning as well. We, too, have been stamped with God's image since we are created in his own likeness - "God created man in his own image ..male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:26-27). We rightfully belong not to ourselves, but to God who created us and redeemed us in the precious blood of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Paul the Apostle says that we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1). Do you acknowledge that your life and everything you possess belongs to God and not to yourself? And do you give to God what rightfully belongs to him?
Psalm 96: 1-10
1 O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!
2 Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!
4 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols; but the LORD made the heavens.
6 Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
7 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!
8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!
9 Worship the LORD in holy array; tremble before him, all the earth!
10 Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established, it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity."
Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: Put off the earthly image and put on the heavenly one, by Origen of Alexandria (185-254 AD)
"Some people think that the Savior spoke on a single level when
he said, 'Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar' - that is, 'pay
the tax that you owe.' Who among us disagrees about paying taxes
to Caesar? The passage therefore has a mystical and secret
meaning. There are two images in humanity. One he received from
God when he was made, in the beginning, as Scripture says in the
book of Genesis, 'according to the image and likeness of God'
(Genesis 1:27). The other image is of the earth (1 Corinthians
15:49). Man received this second image later. He was expelled from
Paradise because of disobedience and sin after the 'prince of this
world' (John 12:31) had tempted him with his enticements. Just as
the coin, or denarius, has an image of the emperor of this world,
so he who does the works of 'the ruler of the darkness' (Ephesians
6:12) bears the image of him whose works he does. Jesus commanded
that that image should be handed over and thrown away from our
face. He wills us to take on that image, according to which we
were made from the beginning, according to God's likeness. It then
happens that we give 'to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God
what is God's.' Jesus said, 'Show me a coin.' For 'coin,' Matthew
wrote 'denarius' ( Matthew 22:19). When Jesus had taken it, he
said, 'Whose inscription does it have?' They answered and said,
'Caesar's.' And he said to them in turn, 'Give to Caesar what is
Caesar's, and to God what is God's.'" (excerpt from HOMILY
ON THE GOSPEL OF LUKE 39.4-6)