Mark 12:17 “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

   This was Jesus’ response to a trick question that the Pharisees and Herodians were hoping to trap Him with.  They asked; “Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” (v. 14)  Jesus knew what they were planning and asked to see a coin.  Clearly the coin had Caesar’s name on it so if it belongs to Caesar, give it back to him!

     In one short response Jesus sums up what our relationship with the authorities  should be.  The Pharisees and Herodians were hoping for a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’;  Wikipedia explains; “Jesus was asked the question about paying taxes in hope that he would answer “yes” or “no”.  Answering “yes” would have left him open to the accusation that he was in opposition to Jewish resistance to the Roman occupation and therefore (given the assumption by the Jews that they still held privileged nation status with God at this time) against God, too. Answering “no” would have given those present an opportunity to report him to the Roman authorities as someone who was trying to incite a revolt.” 

     Why would Jesus need to see a coin to answer the question?  Just to confirm whose coin it was or was there a deeper meaning to His request?  Was Jesus telling us that we must be able to discern what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God?  The Bible tells us; “The earth belongs to the Lord, and everything in it — the world and all its people.    He built it on the waters and set it on the rivers.” (Psalm 24:1,2)  Everything we have comes from the God; “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.”  (James 1:17)  For Christians, even our bodies belong to God; “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own”  (1 Corinthians 6:19)

     The Pharisees didn’t see it that way or they wouldn’t have come up with that trick question.  Caesar had rule over them not God.  They said the same to Pilate the Roman Governor; ” ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ Pilate asked. ”We have no king but Caesar’, the chief priests answered.” (John 19:15)  So of course they gave everything to Caesar and nothing to God.  Jesus tells us to give God what belongs to Him.  He also tells us how to do it; ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:37-40)

     Simply put, our neighbours drive on roads built with our taxes.  Our neighbours go to hospitals built with our taxes.  Our neighbours’ children go to school built with our taxes.  We are to love our neighbours so we are to pay our taxes because we love God first and foremost!   When we realize that all we have is from God, provided to us out of His love for us, taxes are one of the smaller ways we have to give back to Him what is His due.  God has always shown concern for communities and people; “Should I not <sup class="crossreference" value="(L)”>have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not <sup class="crossreference" value="(M)”>know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many <sup class="crossreference" value="(N)”>animals?”  (Jonah 4:11)

     God is the greatest community and nation builder;  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)  How would the world change if we, without restraint, paid back to God all of His due by loving Him first and our neighbour as we love ourselves?

     Praise the Lord!