Paying Taxes to Caesar
13Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words.14They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
17Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
And they were amazed at him.
If you remember from the end of the last passage, the Pharisees have basically resolved to try to kill Jesus if possible. Here, they are playing a mind game with Jesus, trying to get him to make a misstep that will allow them to bring a charge against him. And again, it is helpful to understand the Pharisees’ mentality:
The Pharisees had mixed emotions about the Roman occupation. As Jews, they hated the idea of being oppressed. But at the same time, they weren’t above using the Roman occupation to further their own agenda, i.e. using Roman law as an excuse to kill Jesus. Because of this hypocrisy, nearly any answer Jesus gave was the wrong one: if he said they should pay taxes, they could invoke their Jewish side and say that Jesus was a sellout to Israel. If he said they should not pay taxes, they could invoke their Roman side and say that Jesus was inciting people not to pay taxes. Pretty sharp, huh?
But Jesus neatly sidesteps this trick by telling the Pharisees to give Caesar back his coin. It’s complicated, but this coin had an inscription that implied that Caesar was God (which for a Jew, was idolatry). Good Jews hated this coin because it was so offensive to them, and would refuse to even carry it. So Jesus was implying this: “Why wouldn’t you give this offensive coin back to the Romans? Is the coin more precious than God’s honor? And why are you even carrying it, as high Jewish leaders??” Jesus reveals that it is they who are the hypocrites and sellouts to Israel – and the Pharisees have no response.
Basically, don’t try to play mindgames with God. Don’t think you know better than he, because you don’t. In 1 Corinthians, it says very bluntly that the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. That is to say that if God sovereignly decided to be stupid, he would be smarter than Einstein and Stephen Hawking combined, times a thousand. Trust God’s wisdom, don’t test it – he knows what he’s doing.
1. In what ways do you trust your own wisdom, rather than the wisdom of God?
2. Why do you think it is so hard to trust God’s wisdom, timing, and plan rather than our own?
3. In what ways can we discern and understand God’s wisdom and will?