Jesus on paying taxes to the emperor

Published October 17, 2020, 4:44 PM

by Manila Bulletin

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.”

Everything is from God

The Pharisees and the Herodians are two groups at odds with each other. As the foremost religious group in Israel, the Pharisees are punctilious about the niceties of ritual worship. They resent the Herodians, political supporters of Herod the tetrarch who rules Israel. These followers are thoroughly worldly-minded, venal, and corrupt. Despite their clear differences, however, the Pharisees and the Herodians forge an alliance after they find a common enemy in Jesus Christ.

Under King Herod’s rule, Palestine as a colonized territory has its drawbacks, but it enjoys Pax Romana (or relative peace) and benefits from the progress in civilization such as an expansive road network and an effective postal and communication system. The Pharisees think that every time a Jewish citizen pays taxes to the emperor, the very act of paying tribute is tantamount to worship. The question of whether or not one should pay taxes to the emperor is a legitimate, hotly debated issue.

The same question is posed to Jesus as a trap. The followers of the Pharisees and the Herodians attempt at first to win Jesus over by addressing him “Teacher” and by heaping praises on him. Jesus does not beat around the bush and calls a spade a spade when he calls them “hypocrites.” He knows of the malice in their hearts and their lack of interest to learn from him.

Jesus knows that the question is formulated to incriminate him however he answers. If he says yes, Jesus will be aligning himself with Herod and the hated Romans; if no, he will win the sympathy of the crowds who are burdened with overtaxation, but he can be accused of fomenting a revolution against the Romans.

Jesus asks for a coin used to pay the tax. It is different from the ordinary coin used by the Jews around Palestine. They hand him an imperial coin stamped with the image of the emperor and the inscription “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.” This image and the title are unacceptable to the Jews who have vowed to recognize and worship only one God.

“Whose image is this and whose inscription?” When the crowd answers, “Caesar’s,” Jesus replies, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Jesus calls us to be good citizens but also reminds us that since everything belongs to God, the highest praise and honor always belong to God.

A final thought for today, Mission Sunday: “The Christian faith remains ever young when it is open to the mission that Christ entrusts to us. ‘Mission revitalizes faith’ in the words of St. John Paul II, a Pope who showed such great love and concern for young people.”

SOURCE: “366 Days with the Lord 2020,” ST. PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 632-895-9701; Fax 632-895-7328; E-mail: [email protected]; Website: