Give to God what belongs to Him and Caesar what belongs to Caesar is one of the most portions of the bible that many misunderstand today. Some people use it as a back up to perpetrate crimes and evil. While many lukewarm Christians use it as an excuse not to be so strong in their relationship with God. Some analyse it to mean that there is a time to worship God and also a time to worship the devil. While some conclude that it means to go to church and also do the other things that do not concern God” some politicians see it as “go to church” and yet play your dirty games. None of these and others is true. We will in an exegetical manner take this gospel bit by bit and do some necessary applications to it.
In the bid to test Him
After the parable of the banquet, in which Jesus lashes at the Jewish leaders for their stubbornness of heart, the Pharisees begin to plan on how to trap Him. Their first attempt today is to send their disciples together with the Herodians. The Herodians are members of a political party who derive their name from King Herod. Historically, they are in total opposition with the Pharisees but always unite to fight and attack Jesus. Today, these are their tactical approaches:
1. Honorary Salutation
When they came before Jesus, they hid their intention and saluted Him with respect. Their first greeting is full of flattery. The salutation begins with “master”, and the flattery continues “we know that you are very honest and very keen in teaching the way of God and you are not fearful of anyone and pays no attention to human pride. Tell us if it is right to pay tax to Caesar or not”.
Here let us observe strictly their entry point. This alone would have taken Jesus off. He would have danced to the rhythmic approach of their flattery. He would have been glad to hear such praises from the camp of his main attackers but Jesus keeps His mind cool.
Hereby Jesus teaches us to keep our minds cool when people flatter us at faces. Because we may not know what is behind their intentions.
2. Is It Lawful
This question is highly tactical and vague. When we look critically at this question, we will observe that there is a lack of clarity on which law they mean, is it the law of Moses or that of the Romans. This is like putting someone in the middle of the sea.
If Jesus states that it is lawful and not lawful, they will accuse Him of breaking either of the laws. So this question has no clear cut answer. Because the law in question is not clear. Any straightforward answer to the question will certainly be a problem. Hence teaching us that whenever we are not certain of any particular thing, we have to be cautious, both in our statements and approaches. Always think before you do.
3. To Caesar or Not
The question then becomes, since Jesus is a master and higher authority and hears from God directly what can He say about paying taxes to Caesar, is it right? In simple terms, if Jesus supports the right to pay taxes to Caesar, that means He is now on the side of the Romans and against the jews. They may now see Him as a traitor. They may even accuse Him of being a false teacher, putting caesar in a higher pedestal than God.
If Jesus says no, it then means he is invariably fighting against the Romans and thus the Herodians will certainly descend on Him.
According to Josephus the Historian, Herod was given the “king of the Jews” by the Romans in 40 BCE. Here we have two camps, one for the Jews and one for the Romans. Any yes or no answer from Jesus must always be a problem.
Here Jesus teaches us that, in life, we must not answer every question with a yes or no answer. We have to find a way out of every question sent to trap you.
- Jesus is aware of their tactical approach and evil intention towards Him, and He immediately rebukes them “you hypocrites”. He did not try to paint and sugar coat his words. Sometimes when we are aware of people’s evil plans against you. Do not waste your time, trying to pet or caress the truth. Sometimes it is good to let people know that you know what they know.
- Instead of giving them a straight answer, Jesus requests for the coin they pay tax with. In this approach, it is no longer Jesus trying to give them a directive but they have invariably trapped themselves.
- Since the coin has the portrait and inscription that belongs to Caesar’s then give to Caeser what belongs to Him and God what belongs to God. In essence, this question of paying to Caesar is of Caesar’s.
Give to Ceasar what belongs to Him
The coin with the image of Caesar is a sign that Jews are under Roman authority and taxation. Therefore the taxes must be paid. They have to fulfil their human and political obligations. Jesus in essence tells us that being a child of God is not an opposition to our human responsibilities.
We have to pay attention to our political, human, social and economic responsibilities in as much as we also pay attention to our religious responsibilities. Jesus did not tell us that being a Christian is not a reason we will not perform our political responsibilities like casting votes, paying our dues and maintaining a stable socio-political environment.
Give to God what belongs to God
Here then lies the question, what truly belongs to God? This is a critical question that all must ask. God is the Creator of all universe and everything we have belongs to Him. Every sphere of authority belongs to Him. Our lives, nations, plans, children, future etc belong to the Lord.
This then means that despite however we might respect and obey the government, and other societal organisations, God should not be relegated. Give to God what belongs to Him, does not mean there are times you will abandon Him and do whatever you want. It does not mean we should relegate Him to the backdoor and behave the way we want.
Since God is the creator of the universe where we are, we have to make Him first in everything we do. You are not the owner of life, and life should not be treated the way we want. We are not the owner of our bodies and our bodies should not be treated the way we want. We are not the owner of our souls, so we have to make sure that our souls are also given ultimate attention by giving it the chance to worship His Creator.
In essence, Jesus is saying, that despite however we try to make the world a living place, God should not be relegated. If He is the creator, then we have to give to Him what belongs to Him.
- Genesis 1;27 says that God created man in His own and likeness. So we are the imago Dei. So we give to God what belongs to His image. We give to God ourselves and in total obedience and relationship. Jesus did not in any way tell us to abandon God or to worship God and to worship the devil at the same time. In fact, our body, soul, mind and spirit belongs to God.
- Just as the image of Caesar is written in the coin, We have God’s Spirit living in us. In Genesis 2.7, God breathed in man which makes Him alive. So let us not forget to give God our entire being.
- In this reading today, Jesus also led a basis for the proper relationship of his people to the government. To be a Christian does not mean we should disobey our community and Government orders, for the fact they in line with the protection of life and human dignity. We do not abandon our responsibilities because we are a child of God. We have to keep them, but in all God should be respected.
- Finally, let us not forget, to be very careful in approaching issues. No everything demands a yes or no answer. And not everyone who comes to us has a genuine intention, many have hidden agendas. Finally, let us not forget, to be very careful in approaching issues. No everything demands a yes or no answer. And not everyone who comes to us has a genuine intention, many have hidden agendas. Before you do or say anything, always think and deliberate internally about it.
May God bless you. Happy Sunday.
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