Is 45:1, 4-6; 1Thess 1:1-5b; Matt 22:15-21
There was a story about a certain man who always teased a cross-eyed person. So, the cross-eyed person got angry. The cross-eyed held him in the neck and said: “Am I a cross-eyed or not?” The man was in dilemma. He said to himself: “What am I going to do?” At the end he had an idea. He said NO but the cross-eyed bit hit him and said: “You are a liar!” So he decided to say YES but the cross-eyed hit him again and said: “Huh! You are putting me down!”
“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” (v. 21).
In our gospel today, the Pharisees were asking Jesus about civic duty. They asked Him: “Is it lawful to pay tax to the emperor or not?” Jesus answered them: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.
We all know that if Jesus would say YES, the people would resent and reject Him because nobody likes to pay taxes especially to foreign government, the Roman government, who dominated them during that time. For the Jews, it is an insult to their religion and a blasphemy against God because they held that only Yahweh is their King. Their nation was a theocracy and to pay taxes to an earthly king was to admit the validity of his kingship and thereby to insult God.
According to William Barclay, in his commentary on this passage of the gospel, said that there are regular taxes which the Roman government exacted. There was the ground tax or a man must pay to the government one tenth of the grain and one fifth of the oil and wine which he produced. This tax was paid partly in kind and partly in money equivalent. There was income tax which was I percent of a man’s income. There was a poll tax. This tax has to be paid by every male person from the age of fourteen to the age of sixty-five and by every female person from the age of twelve to sixty-five. It amounted to one dinarius. The tax in question here, according to Barclay, is the poll tax.
On the other hand, if Jesus says NO, the Pharisees would report Him to the Roman government as a revolutionary person or an insurrectionist. The Roman government would then arrest Him and put Him into prison. But Jesus did not bite their trap on Him. What Jesus meant here is that, he points out that we are citizens of two worlds – the world we see and the unseen world. As such, we have duties in both worlds, that is, to a person and to God. It is like, love your God and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Our duties to a person include not only what we owe to the government like paying taxes and allegiance, but also what we owe to others. These include: taking good care of their health, giving them education, giving them time to rest and to relax especially workers and laborers. A Christian, for the reason that he is a Christian, he must be a responsible citizen of his own country, that is, if he fails in being a good citizen, he is a failure too in his Christian duty.
But the Christian is also a citizen of heaven. There are matters of religion and religious principles in which the responsibility of the Christian is to God. As Christians, we owe to God praise and thanksgiving, honor and glory. In other words, we owe to God worship because He is All Good and the source of all that we have and are.
But it is wrong to think that Jesus is referring to a two-fold diverse allegiance, one to the civil authorities and one to God. All authority comes from God. If the government that had been or properly set up, wields authority over its citizens, it does so in God’s name. If the citizens obey the lust laws of the state, they are giving homage to God and offering Him a true sign of worship. If they duly pay just taxes they are likewise giving honor and glory to God. But if they evade just and reasonable taxes imposed by the government, they are offending against the government.
Actually, Jesus does not say anything about the boundaries of the two types of duties. He is silent about this. That is for a person’s own conscience to test. It can be so that these duties would not clash with each other. But if it indeed, he has to follow God’s will and must resist and take no part of it if one’s duty to a bad government is at stake, follow one’s conscience.
Let us ask ourselves a question: Do I actively cooperate with the civil officials in the development of our civic government?
See Today’s Readings: Cycle A