And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”
But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. Mark 12:13-17
Another trap! The religious-minded Pharisees and the secular-minded Herodians come with a question that tests Jesus’ loyalty. They start with flattery calling him a great teacher who will speak unfiltered truth about the law. So what does Jesus think about paying taxes to Rome? He will be considered a seditionist against Rome, whose divine leader is Caesar and his puppet King Herod if he answers one way. If he answers the other way, he will be considered a heretic against YaHWeH, Israel’s true and holy leader.
Jesus sees right through their act (hypocrisy) and once again answers a question with not one but two questions, one rhetorical and the other answerable. He splits the difference by stating that they should give Caesar what is his and give God what is His. Jesus’ answer is brilliant even in their eyes.
Once a congregant challenged me wanting to know why I wasn’t flying our nation’s flag on our home but instead flew that other flag; it was a Christian flag. I have flown an American flag, and I own a Celtic Cross, New England Patriots, Saltire of St. Patrick, Smile Face, and Christmas flags.
At the time, I wished I was as wise and brilliant as our Great Teacher, splitting the difference with my response like he did. Instead, I answered truthfully, saying that I considered myself first to a citizen of the Kingdom of God and then a citizen of this nation or the world. He didn’t marvel at my response. In fact, some in this present culture would likely consider my answer heresy against their gods.
Help us see that our citizenship in the world does not trump our divine call as citizens of your kingdom. Show us how to honor and pray for the emperors (national leaders) of this world and listen to the governors of the territory where we live. (1 Peter 2:13-21)
I pray this in the name of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Amen!