Which is harder? Giving to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, or giving to God the things that belong to God? Until recently, I thought it easy to list the things that belong to Caesar, or in my case, the United States. They are things like paying taxes and… Wait a minute. We now have a president who has taken pride in the fact that he has avoided paying taxes. In Jesus’ day, the tax structure was even more whimsical and unfair than our current one. Rich people paid bribes to avoid higher taxes. This was considered smart, but Jesus was blunt. Simply give to the government your taxes. Being fixated on lowering your tax rate or what deductions you can claim should never distract you from your real debt, which is to God.
Jesus was asked about taxes (Matthew 22:15-22) while he was teaching in the temple during his last week on earth. He knew that his time was short and that his real listeners wanted spiritual truth. We are told that when the Pharisees came to ask Jesus about taxes, he saw through them. He knew that they intended to trap him. For the Pharisees, money was an important thing. Giving it away to Rome, offended them. Not because Rome had stolen their nation’s freedom, but because they wanted to keep the money for themselves. They looked at their tax form and saw themselves as losers. They didn’t see the roads, civic buildings, and financial gains that Roman rule had brought to what was just a hundred years before this, a very backwoods part of the world. When we give our coin to Caesar today, we rarely see social good. A larger portion of our taxes go to that today, than what they did in Jesus’ day.
I’m sure that Jesus saw the Pharisees question a distraction. We continue to do everything we can to avoid hearing what Jesus came to say. We want to focus on the coins we owe to Caesar. Speak of distractions, do football players owe the government or the NFL league a minute of standing at attention before the game? We get focused on what everybody owes their government and miss the fact that the whole Sunday football thing is a distraction from worship. We constantly use sports metaphors to express the Gospel, never pausing to think that rooting for our modern day gladiators to bang their heads together and get brain trauma, may be the opposite of what Jesus was advocating. Jesus advocated justice, compassion, and financial simplicity. If having someone take a knee reminds us that there is still a battle for social justice and racial equality that needs to be fought, then excuse me for distracting you from the game.