Pay Caesar what is Caesar's.....
Pay Caesar what is Caesar's…… OT 29 Year A
This is part of a series of incidents in the three days leading up to the Passion when Jesus' enemies attempt to get enough evidence to incriminate him with the Roman authorities:
* The Pharisees and Herodians sought to "entangle him" in a debate about paying taxes.
* The Sadducees sought to entangle him in a debate about the resurrection.
* A lawyer from the Pharisees tried to entangle him in a debate about the great commandment (You shall love the Lord your God…").
* The Pharisees sought to entangle him in a debate about the Messiah and his origins.
They all wanted him out of the way!
Today's gospel is the first of these events. The Pharisees & Herodians, in disguise, mix with the crowds around Jesus. They are strange bedfellows. The Pharisees hate the Roman occupation and detest the tax. The Herodians (Herod's court) are dependent on Roman authority and support Roman rule. The tax in question is the "Imperial" tax which was only levied on people in occupied territories. Not on Roman citizens. (So St Paul would have paid no tax?)
It is perhaps ironic that the story is told only in Matthew's Gospel. If Matthew and Levi are one and the same, Matthew is (or was) himself a Tax Collector! There is another early opinion that the author of Matthew was in fact the "rich young man whom Jesus loved." But that's another story.
As always, we need to put the story into context in order to extract the most meaning.
Jesus is in many ways the revolutionary - he was in a struggle with oppressive and unjust power that would soon cost him his life.
1. 2000 years ago Rome and Caesar laid claim to everything. Everything in the entire Roman world belonged to Caesar, who was "son of god". So, when Jesus said "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" the really important point is that he was saying there are some things Caesar does not own!
2. The Jews were an occupied people. They were allowed to keep some of their customs and traditions, but Rome laid claim to owning Israel and Jerusalem and the Temple and everything. So, when Jesus said "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" the really important point is that he was saying "You may occupy our city, but you can never own our hearts."
3. The money used to pay Rome's taxes was the Denarius. It had Caesar's picture on it and everything. But the Jews had their own money, called the Shekel. So, when Jesus said "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" the really important point is that he was saying "Here, take your filthy money with you. I do not need it."
The hidden agenda behind all these stories is that of the place of authority in Jesus' world and ours.
Only a few days after the tax question Jesus and Pilate would be having a conversation along these lines:
Pilate: "Do you know what authority I have?"
Jesus: "You would have no authority except that which has been given you by God"
(As an aside, reading between the lines here it is an indication that Jesus very possibly spoke Latin as well as Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek. The nearest Pilate would have got to talking to foreigners would be to talk very loudly and slowly!)
Again, Paul in Romans 13 tells us that "all authority comes from God" and if anyone disregards that they are guilty of sinning against God.
So, what of ourselves. Where do we see the place of "authority"? There have been times when corrupt rulers have had to be faced and overthrown. There are times when taxes are unjust. There are times when our understanding of being a Steward of the Kingdom conflicts with secular values.
In the context of today's readings each one of us has to face these dilemmas.
The question is, are we Pharisees or Herodians? Or are we followers of Christ, free to decide what is right and what is wrong and with the authority of Christ through our baptism able to respond accordingly?