“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,
and to God the things that are God’s.”
The questioners pose their malevolently brilliant question: “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” That is, is it licit under the Torah to pay taxes to the Romans? If Jesus says it is lawful to pay the tribute, He would have been seen as a collaborator with the Roman occupiers and would alienate the people who had just proclaimed Him a king. If Jesus says that the tribute is illegitimate, He risked being branded a political criminal and incurring the wrath of Rome. With either answer, someone would have been likely to kill Him.
The coin they bring to Christ is a denarius (verse 19). The denarius was a day’s pay for workers and Roman troops. In the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Matthew 20: 1-16), we see that a denarius was the ordinary payment for a day’s labour (see Matthew 20: 2, 9, 10, 13).
The coin handed to Christ in the Temple is most likely the denarius of Tiberius, which on its front has the inscription Ti Caesar Divi Avg F Avgvstvs (Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus, “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Augustus) ”, inscribed around an image of Tiberius with a laurel crown.
The reverse side depicts a seated woman as Pax. This was Livia Drusilia, wife of Augustus and mother of Tiberius; she died in AD 29 and was later worshiped by her grandson Claudius with the title Diva Augusta, and women were to invoke her name in their sacred oaths. On the coin, she holds a palm branch in her left hand and an inverted spear in her right hand, and the inscription on this side refers to Tiberius as Pontif Maxim (Pontifex Maximus), or “High Priest” of the Roman State.
Both inscriptions are offends to Jews, and so the coin should not have been in the hands of anyone in the Temple. They themselves have already carried an image of Caesar and Diva Augusta, and blasphemous inscription, into the Temple of the Lord God. The questioners’ quickness to produce the coin at Jesus’ request implies that they routinely used it, taking advantage of Roman financial largess, whereas Jesus did not. Thus they reveal their religious hypocrisy- they bring a potentially profane item, the coin of a pagan, into the sacred space of the Temple.
Jesus’ use of the word, “image,” in the counter-question reminds His questioners of the First Commandment’s requirement to venerate God first and its connected prohibition against creating images of false gods. With one straightforward counter-question, Jesus skilfully points out that the claims of God and Caesar are mutually exclusive. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. Matthew 6:24. If one’s faith is in God, then God is owed everything; Caesar’s claims are necessarily illegitimate, and he is therefore owed nothing. If, on the other hand, one’s faith is in Caesar, God’s claims are illegitimate, and Caesar is owed, at the very least, the coin which bears his image.
It is interesting what is belong to God and Caesar : This story has another deeper meaning as well. We, too, have been stamped with God’s image since we are created in his own likeness – “God created man in his own image ..male and female he created them” Genesis 1:26-27. We rightfully belong not to ourselves, but to God who created us and redeemed us in the precious blood of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Paul the Apostle says that we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1). Do you acknowledge that your life and everything you possess belongs to God and not to yourself? And do you give to God what rightfully belongs to him?
Christianity requires a complete rendering. Jesus appreciates the widow who gave everything she has. “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on”. Mark 12:44. Jesus pray in the garden: “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine”. John 17:10. And he asks his disciples to keep awake for an hour with him. And He came unto the disciples and found them asleep, and said unto Peter, “What, could ye not watch with Me one hour? Matthew 26:40. So we have to render everything we have to God.
Meaning of Caesar is wider now, it spreads from hour home to workplace. We need to spend time with family. We have to work efficiently for we are getting paid. So the things owed to Caesar get a wider meaning, social justice. Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.”
The Seven Principles of Christian Social Justice :
- The Dignity of the Human Person
- The Call to Family and Community
- Rights and Responsibilities
- Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
- The Dignity of Work
- Care for God’s Creation
These 7 principles are derived from the document “Seven Key Themes of Catholic Social Teaching,” United States. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1999.
Parable of the rich man and Lazarus add another dimension to this justice. Luke 16: 19-31. This parable not just details the need of distributing wealth. Who was the symbolic rich man? The Jews had been blessed above measure by knowledge of God and his plan of salvation for all mankind. They had received “the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.” Romans 9.4. Only a Jew would pray to “Father Abraham,” as we find the rich man doing later in the story.
Lazarus symbolized all those people in spiritual poverty—the Gentiles—with whom the Israelites were to share their heritage. The words of Isaiah were well known to the Jews. “I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49.6 . Unfortunately, the Jews had not shared their spiritual wealth with the Gentiles at all. Instead, they considered them as “dogs” that would have to be satisfied with the spiritual crumbs falling from their masters’ tables.
When we value others we forget to do it reasonable. Price for Jesus in the eyes of Judas Iscariot was thirty silver coins. In Zechariah 11:12–13, 30 pieces of silver is the price Zechariah receives for his labour. He takes the coins and throws them “to the potter”. In Exodus 21:32, 30 pieces of silver was the price of a slave. So be careful when we value others. When Mary anoints Jesus in Bethany Judas Iscariot made a valuable point, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” A true and just comment but Jesus valued it after assessing Judas’ heart. Judas said this not because he cares the poor but because he was a thief. “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20.
Looking at him we find another dimension of this spending. “Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross”. Philippians 2 :6-8.
“Lord, because you have made me, I owe you the whole of my love; because you have redeemed me, I owe you the whole of myself; because you have promised so much, I owe you all my being. Moreover, I owe you as much more love than myself as you are greater than I, for whom you gave yourself and to whom you promised yourself. I pray you, Lord, make me taste by love what I taste by knowledge; let me know by love what I know by understanding. I owe you more than my whole self, but I have no more, and by myself I cannot render the whole of it to you. Draw me to you, Lord, in the fullness of love. I am wholly yours by creation; make me all yours, too, in love.” (Prayer of Saint Anselm of Canterbury, 1033-1109 AD)