On Tribute to Caesar

Posted by Thaddaeus

Matthew 22: 15-21

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.  They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status.  Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”  Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?  Show me the coin that pays the census tax.”  Then they handed him the Roman coin.  He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”  They replied, “Caesar’s.”  At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”


Background:  There are three major groups, or political parties, who hold power in religious or political matters in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus: the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Herodians.  In the past few Sundays, Jesus discredits the Sadducees and the Pharisees with three parables.  This Sunday, the Pharisees go off and plot with the Herodians how they might entrap Jesus in speech.  They are political foes; unlikely companions.  The Pharisees seek to restore Jewish independence as existed under the kingdom of David.  The Herodians seek to restore the kingdom of Herod the Great under Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee and Perea.  Antipas is a foreigner and a Jewish convert.  It is unlikely that the Pharisees and the Herodians would unite to agree on anything, but politics often makes for strange alliances and opposition to Jesus unites them.  Besides, the Pharisees know that Herod wants Jesus dead.


On Tribute to Caesar:  At the time of Jesus, there is great division among the people whether the so-called census tax should be paid in exchange for Roman security.  The Jews consider any type of tribute to be unlawful.  Pharisees do not favor paying it because the Jewish people pay tithes and other taxes to the Temple.  Although Herod is a Jewish convert, he exacts the census tax.  The Pharisees know that if they can entrap Jesus that Herod’s soldiers will arrest Jesus and bring charges of plotting rebellion against the Romans.  They know others have been put to death for this very thing.  Jesus’ response turns the tables confounding both the Pharisees and the Herodians with his answer.  His answer avoids taking sides in whether the tax is lawful.  Then Jesus raises the debate to a new level by arguing they should act in justice and do good deeds that are due God in addition to paying tithes and Temple taxes.