Tuesday, May 23
Throughout chapter 20, the Pharisees attempt to undermine Jesus with trick questions, and starting at verse 20, they decide that they’re going to try to pose him another unanswerable question. They comment on his lack of favoritism in his teaching, although it seems to imply that they are cynically calling him out on a lack of respect for authority. Following up on this, they ask him another question meant to undermine his teachings.
They ask Jesus whether or not they have an obligation to pay taxes to Caesar. This has an important historical context behind it, because there had been several Jewish revolutions against Roman occupation that had turned out terribly for the Jews. The Pharisees, who were cooperating with the Roman governors much to the expense of their own people, were essentially asking Jesus an impossible question.
Consider this, if Jesus had answered that they were obligated to pay taxes, then he would be implying the relevancy of both Roman authority and the authority of Pharisees and would be undermining the tenacity of his own teachings. However, if he had spoken against the need to pay taxes to Caesar, he would be openly defying Roman authority and so would be putting himself on grounds of treason, and would have been executed as quickly as it could be reported to the Romans. As it was, Jesus’ answer was simple and avoidant, while also proving a much larger point to them. His response is to take a look at whose face is on the coin, which was Caesar’s face. He then tells the Pharisees to give to Cesar what is “his” and give to God what is “God’s”.
Not only did Jesus successfully navigate around their impossible question, but he also gives a stronger context for understanding his teachings as well. This seems to tie into what Jesus meant when he said that his purpose was not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. According to Jesus, the call that we have is a moral one beyond the law or social convention. Neither is he advocating that law is unnecessary. Rather, he invites us to be pragmatic about the circumstances, but understand that the truth he teaches is a way of finding meaning in our lives, rather than how to simply conduct it.
(Photo Credit: https://www.jarofquotes.com/view.php?id=and-he-said-unto-them-render-therefore-unto-caesar-the-things-which-be-caesars-and-unto-god-the-things-which-be-gods)