S (Scripture): Mark 12: [The Pharisees asked Jesus]: “Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay taxes or not?”
15 Since Jesus recognized the Pharisees’ deceit, he said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a coin. Show it to me.” 16 And they brought one. He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
17 Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” His reply left them overcome with wonder.
O (Observation): Allegiance. Can the religious authorities paint Jesus into a corner? Would Jesus defy governing authorities and tell God-followers NOT to pay taxes? Or would Jesus side with the government, telling God’s people to align with the government?
Well, how about both?
The Pharisees wanted Jesus to admit to breaking either the religious Law or the government law. If Jesus says it is NOT in line with the Law (The Torah), and tells people not to pay government taxes, then Jesus stands in contempt of the ruling authority, and could be imprisoned. If Jesus says it is NOT against the Law, then he looks like he is condoning the leadership and authority of Caesar over and above allegiance to God!
Jesus doesn’t fall for it. Jesus recognizes that God’s people live in a broken world. Jesus recognizes that the worldly realm is sometimes subject to governing authorities. Those governing authorities – though imperfect – can be followed to an extent. These authorities may rule over money or position in the world, but what does God oversee? What is God’s realm?
God’s realm includes all of this that Jesus has spoken of, and more. And so, God’s people are called to give all that is God’s back to God. That includes life itself.
A (Application): Jesus is not asking us to align with God or the government authorities. Jesus seems to be asking us to give all of who we are to God (emotions, finances, physical being, soul, etc.). That part in this worldly realm (home, finances, possessions, etc.) that are given to the government does not make one disloyal to God.
In my estimation, we give our lives – as Christians – to our God. All that we say and do is to give glory to God. Treating our possessions as if we earned them, but also as if we can freely give them to those in need, is somewhat getting to the point. Yes, earned them, but yes, they belong to God.
I most often attempt this understanding by giving a tithe to the church and paying my quarterly estimated taxes to the government. I want the water department to come and quickly repair a leak in a burst pipe that caused water to spurt out from beneath the driveway near the sidewalk at my house. I love newly paved roads. I like having a government in place. I also like supporting God’s work through the Church.
Yet the government and authorities will not be my only guidance. I will seek truth and justice and peace, and give my allegiance to God. Sometimes that will be in line with the government, and sometimes not.
I will diligently and prayerfully give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. That takes prayers and discernment. I will look to my wife and friends and those I trust to help me discern. I’m sure the Spirit will have something to say in the midst of all of that.
P (Prayer): Gracious God, give me a discerning spirit to follow as you call me and those around me to comply when for the good of all and to confront when any of us is oppressed. Amen.