Every Day Is Tax Season
Reading: Matthew 21, 22
Nuances are sometimes so subtle that we miss them entirely. Though I’ve read Matthew 22:17-22 many times over the years, it wasn’t until this morning that I had an “aha” moment and noticed something that I hadn’t realized before.
Here’s the story. The Lord was approached by His critics during the last few days of His earthly ministry. This wasn’t unusual—they were always hanging about looking for some way to trap Him in His words or actions. But this time they were desperate to find some way of getting rid of Him. It was no secret that the Jews did everything they could to thumb their noses at their Romans oppressors, and withholding taxes that went into Roman coffers was one of those ways of resistance. On this occasion the Lord’s enemies tried to catch Him by asking Him if He thought it was okay to pay taxes to Caesar. Whatever response He made would surely get Jesus into trouble with someone!
“But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying tax.’ They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then he said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away” (NIV).
Coins were imprinted with image of Caesar in those days, just as our coins are imprinted with the heads of key political or governmental figures in our history. We’ve heard the application of these verses many times, but did you notice (and you might have because you are sharper than I am) the subtle message that the Lord gives by using this illustration of the image stamped on the coin?
Back in Genesis 1 where we have the record of the creation of the world, this note is recorded: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26, 27, NIV).
I owe my taxes to my government. They printed the money I use to pay my bills, to buy what I need, that I “recycle” back to them so that they can look after health care, security, unemployment insurance, and the myriad of those things the citizens of the country benefit from. The value of that money depends on the gold reserves that the government guards in their coffers. Like it or not, my physical wellbeing is more in their hands than it is in mine.
But just as the government’s authority over those taxes is imprinted on the money that I use, so is God’s image imprinted on me. I belong to Him, and I “owe” Him. That’s the subtle “dig” to the message that Jesus delivered that day to His detractors. He was telling them that they needed to pay their dues to the One whose image was imprinted on them. He wasn’t talking about religious observance, or buying their salvation. Just as my tax contributions wouldn’t keep a rabbit in clover for more than a week, I’d never be able to pay for all that God has given me. What Jesus is saying is that I owe Him everything, and the allegiance, the commitment, the heart and soul and life, is what He asks back of those who bear His image.
Jesus’ critics went away “amazed.” Something tells me that they didn’t understand the underlying message. They were amazed that Jesus so easily slipped out of their trap. They didn’t realize they were still caught in one themselves.