The Pharisees and the Herodians – known enemies – both want Jesus arrested, so they join together to try and trap Him by His teachings. They approach Jesus with a question, asking if Jews should or should not pay taxes. At this time, the Jews were living under Roman rule and were obligated to pay taxes on food and income, in addition to what was called a yearly poll tax per person. Not only were taxes a hefty financial burden to pay, but they were monies that were given to an authority that was oppressing the Jewish people. So with this question, Pharisees and Herodians intend to put Jesus in a difficult position. If Jesus supported taxes on the Jewish people, He would seem to be supportive of the Roman Empire’s oppression upon them. If He told the Jews to not pay their taxes, He could be viewed by the Roman government as a rebel.
But Jesus answers with wisdom which focuses on a more powerful authority: that of the Kingdom of God. He asks for a denarius, a Roman coin which had imprinted on it the image of the emperor. Like a label or signature, the image confirmed the government to which the coin belonged. It signified the jurisdiction under which the coin could be used. He uses the analogy of the coin to point to a greater truth about humanity.
We as people bear the image of God and are created to be used in God’s economy. As such, we are rendered useless outside of God’s purposes. As we live expecting the Kingdom of Heaven to come in its fullness on earth, it is right to give what is owed to the government in which we live. But more importantly, because we are created in the image and likeness of God, we are called to give all that belongs to Him. This includes our whole selves. All that we do, all that we give, all that we profess has the capacity to return to God what He deserves.
Hear the call of Jesus Who tells us to give to our God what is His. How much of what belongs to God do we give Him?