Temple Tax and Things that Belong to God

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Matthew 22:21

It’s after Jesus has entered Jerusalem to an ecstatic crowd, after he was transfigured on the mountain. Jesus has been walking around in Jerusalem where, according to what Jesus tells his apostles, he has come to die.
The Pharisees are right in on this little conspiracy, but they fail to see the larger picture, and consider that Jesus is a step ahead. There are plenty of other things the don’t know as well. 
Jesus’ time in Jerusalem is characterised by parables, and by Pharisees and Sadducees trying to ask the tricky questions. And they keep getting caught out, their duplicity held up against the light, and their conduct shown to be a little more murky, muddy or obfuscated than they would like people to see.
The temple tax was a big deal for the Pharisees; shortly after this incident (Matthew 23), Jesus will lay a comprehensive critique of the Pharisees down; he doesn’t hold back any passion as he strikes out against the hypocrisy, deception and distorted focii. He says they malign God’s word and misunderstand it’s purpose; “you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness…You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”
He’s saying they have their priorities all wrong, and focus on their religiosity and fanciful intricacies rather than being real about who God is. But it is also pulled down tight around monetary issues; in the story of the Rich young man, Jesus says that having money to burn can hinder your relationship with God. There’s a few points where Jesus commends honest, simple, giving rather than legalistic portioning! 
When the Pharisees come to him now – trying to expose him as a fool or a heretic they think they have him. They’re trying to “entangle him with his words. They are sly and smarmy, and suck up to Jesus but he sees right through it, and takes them to town.

“Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?  Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Here’s the catch – not only is he deftly sidestepping the barbs of the Pharisees, and neutralising their attack, Jesus actually spins it right back on them, with subtlety.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27

Jesus says that Caesar has marked out that coin, by placing his image on it. Caesar is the authority when it comes to them. But the Pharisees have completely missed the point – God has marked out something with his own image. Just as they were to give to Caesar what Caesar owned, so God is the rightful owner of our bodies, our essence, everything we are.

This event isn’t just saying “No, Pharisees, you won’t catch me out like that,” or finding a sneaky way to make the Pharisees look foolish. This runs right to the heart of Christianity – are you giving to God what is rightfully his?

I read this last night, and was hit by it in a way that I haven’t been before. It’s so big. I know that I don’t really live as if I am marked out for God, in the same way those coins were marked for Caesar.
And it’s even bigger than that – there’s the initial level, whereby I belong to God because he is the creator, and he has marked me with his image (how awesome is that! Praying that I can keep remembering that).
And then there’s the fact that he bought me with a price, paying the ransom with Jesus’ blood.

I’ve been pretty convicted that I don’t have the sort of focus I ought to. I’m always caught up in thinking through complicated scenarios, and theological tricks. Which is good. But the danger is losing sight of the fact that beyond all that, the image I have is that of God, and I should live with that in my heart, in my mind, and on my lips.


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