Even if you haven’t been reading along in Luke, when you read today’s passage it is clear we are coming to the end of Jesus’ life. He is being attacked and framed on every side. People are trying to make him say something that will make him easy to kill or at least turn public opinion against him.
A group of people come up to Jesus purposely trying to catch him in a predicament regarding Roman taxes. They ask whether it is right to pay the tribute tax using Roman coins that bear the image of the Caesar, something deemed idolatrous. By this time it might have even been that the Caesar was declaring himself “Lord” in the inscription on these coins. Jesus knows what they are up to. He answers them in such a cunning way that it shuts down their attempts to frame him, but it also gives us wise guidance on how to interact with government.
“Show me a tribute-coin,” he said. “This image . . . and this inscription . . . who do they belong to?”
“Caesar,” they said.
“Well, then,” replied Jesus, “you’d better give Caesar back what belongs to him! And give God back what belongs to him.” (20:24-25, emphasis Wright’s)
Given that the central point in their discussion is an image on a coin, it is quite likely that what Jesus is saying that paying taxes is no big deal, even with a seemingly blasphemous coin, because that is simply what is required in Caesar’s world. His image, his coin. Give him what is his. However, pushing his questioners deeper than they intended to go, if we are going to talk about images, let’s remember that we have an image stamped on us too, Jesus says. We bear God’s image. Give Him what is his. Work in the system, fine and dandy; pay your taxes and stay out of trouble. But be sure to give your heart, your life, your energy to God.
Which leads to some unpopular questions in a country as patriotic as America. Do we ever give too much to our Caesars? Sure, we pay our taxes and fulfill our civic duties. That is fitting. But do we also give our heart and being to our countries? Do we pledge allegiance to our governments so much that they become our first love? Are we willing to die for a country yet we are not willing to suffer discomfort for Jesus? Do we bleed red, white and blue (or any other flag’s colors)? Do we think our favorite politician is the savior of life as we know it? Will we debate, fight, divide, or attack for our candidate? Do we proselytize for our political party and forward political emails to friends, yet do neither for the Creator of our souls? Do we accept attitudes popular with our political persuasions but which are actually contrary to the way of Christ? How much is too much?
I know, not a popular set of questions in an election year. Oh, and the Olympics start this week! Just going where the text takes me.