Either - Or

The Pharisees were against paying taxes to Rome, but the Herodians, followers of King Herod, supported it. Two groups with differing opinions but both agreed when it came to Jesus.

The Gospel According to Matthew

We can find a classic example of their plotting in the Gospel passage for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mt. 22:15-21). The Pharisees and Herodians had come up with a double-edged “yes or no” question for Jesus, one that would surely get him into trouble. “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Either – Or. Simple enough, either you pay it or you don’t.

Trick Question, Smart Answer

You can ask your son or daughter, “Did you do your homework?” Yes or no. Either it is done or not. Is Jesus the center of your life? Either he is or he isn’t. The question they pose is obviously a trick but Jesus’ answer is not. If Jesus agrees with paying Caesar the tax then he runs the risk of alienating himself from his Jewish folk who suffer under the Romans. If Jesus disagrees however, it will bring him into trouble with the Roman authorities. It would appear that there is no way out of this “either” – “or” question.

Jesus Responds

And then Jesus asks for a coin. This reveals the hypocrisy of those questioning Him. The coin that is used for paying the taxes is a special one that is marked with the image of Caesar. Jews hated this coin so much that they refused to carry it, so when the Pharisees reached into their pocket and pulled it out, everyone around them was shocked. Jesus looked at the coin and then he came up with one of his greatest one-liners: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” The coins imprinted with Caesar belong to Caesar; human beings, imprinted with God’s image belong to God.

Living the Message

Jesus’ words have nothing to do with taxes. Instead they have everything to do with how we live our lives. But we are citizens of the world first. And we have a responsibility to each other, for each other and to all of mankind. This Gospel should be a reminder that while government has a rightful and important place in our lives it should never force us to neglect the truth that each and every one of us is marked by God, made in his own image. Everything in this world belongs to God. Even Caesar.