BY: Fr. Benny Tuazon

(Mt. 22:15-21)
In the day’s Gospel Jesus is once again given a trap by the Pharisees through the Herodians. The trap, a question, was introduced by affirming what they thought Jesus attitude toward others opinion. Jesus was asked if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Taxes, like it is today, was very controversial in Jesus’ time. People were objecting to paying taxes to their Roman conqueror. The tax issue was made more oppressive because tax collectors, who were fellow Jews (remember Matthew, and Zaccheaus?), took advantage of the position to exact taxes a lot more than what the Romans were willing to receive. Just as the previous traps, Jesus seized the chance to teach them about God and His ways.

To the question, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”, Jesus’ reply was, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs, to God.” Excellent answer. Only Jesus can answer this way. Where was the trap? If Jesus said, “Pay your taxes.” He will draw the ire of many Jews. They hated to pay taxes as mentioned above. If He says, “No.”, He will be under fire from the Roman government. Jesus not only eluded the trap but taught them to be responsible citizens of government and God’s Kingdom!

Jesus pointed out to them that, through the coin which has the image of the Caesar,they were able to transact business since the Caesar’s image is on those coins, all the services of those coins are the responsibility of the Caesar. It is but fitting that taxes are collected for those services. This one is easy to understand and accept in spite of the excessive taxes exacted on them.

The main message is in the second part of Jesus’ answer, “ , repay… to God what belongs to God.” How can we repay God?” What is the relation between paying Caesar and paying God? Going back to Jesus’ response by asking for a coin which has the image of the Caesar, we ask, which has God’s image on it? A true Jew, and I can also say, a true Christian should be able to answer it. The Book of Genesis has the answer. It is a basic teaching int he Christian Faith. “God created man in His image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them.” In us is God’s image. Thus, God owns us. We repay God’s goodness with our whole person. Caesar is a person. God’s image is in him too.Thus, he himself belongs to God. In the end, we are commanded to be responsible citizens. More importantly, we ought to be responsible creation of God!

(n.b. Some politicians and opinionated people use this passage to support their “separation of Church and state” principle. Jesus was not concerned about that kind of politics. During His time, He was vocal and courageous and fulfilling His prophetic mission. The state is composed of people. Anything which concerns people is a concern of faith. Jesus was giving a teaching on people’s salvation. and not giving an opinion of the separation.”

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