Jesus on paying taxes to the emperor

SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Valeriano Avila - The Freeman

It is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time and our Sunday gospel talks about what our Lord Jesus thinks on paying taxes to the Emperor. That you can read in Matt. 22:15-21. Today is a day that we have shifted from hearing of another parable by Our Lord Jesus. However today’s gospel reading is no longer a parable, but rather it is a hypothetical question that the Pharisees gave our Lord Jesus Christ in order to snare or trap him. This only shows that we are now moving towards the end of our liturgical year.

“15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial ta] to Caesar or not?”

“18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

* * *

Of course, the Pharisees were looking for ways to trap Jesus in his own words asking him such an innocent sounding question that could be answered by yes or no. However, Jesus is smarter than the Pharisees, asking them to present a Denarius for him to see. Then in an instant the Lord replied to them. “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

In today’s gospel in Matthew 21-22, representatives from a number of Jewish leadership groups come to Jesus with questions: questions about his authority (21:23-27); questions about the resurrection (22:23-33); and questions about the Law (22:34-40). The question in Matthew 22:17 is brought by disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians, an unlikely pair of unscrupulous friends that help Rome achieve its purpose in occupying the Holy Land. Herod is a vassal of Rome and if Jesus replied not to pay taxes to Ceasar, then it will be the Herodians who would have him arrested as an enemy of Rome.

The Pharisees represent the Jewish people and if Jesus replied that we should not pay taxes to Caesar then this would satisfy the Jews and it would be easy for the Pharisees and the Herodians to conspire against Jesus and have the Romans settle things.

However, Jesus answers them and shows that he is aware of their trickery. He even calls them hypocrites because they show something on the outside (flattery) that is quite opposite of what is true internally (evil intent). Jesus calls for a coin --a denarius-- presumably the cost of the tax, and he asks them to identify whose image is on the coin. When they identify the emperor's face and title, Jesus delivers an amazing and rather ambiguous one-liner: "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's" This is an answer from the Lord that they did not expect as he answered them with authority!

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