Those Murderous Taxes
Tim, one of my colleagues at Southern Bible, was excited on Saturday morning at faculty meeting. He had passed his oral exam for candidacy for his Ph.D. It took three hours. His major professor asked him a battery of questions to determine his understanding of the theology of preaching and then zeroed in on Tim’s personal theology of preaching. Another professor, like a tag team wrestling match, started in with questions on New Testament Theology. Tim, then, had to leave the room as the entire committee discussed how he did. He passed and now it’s on to his dissertation.
The interrogators during Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem were not nearly so kind. They weren’t simply trying to find out what He knew. They were trying to snare Him so they could murder Him. And the first question dealt with an area that is one of the hot topics in our present U.S. presidential election—paying taxes.
When we left our story yesterday, the religious legal experts and the priests were seeking any way they could to lay their hands on Jesus, but they feared His popularity with the crowd gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover. So they try a different approach. Ask Him some questions where the answers will turn the crowd against Him. The hated Romans taxes were a good place to start to try to get the crowd to turn against Him.
“And as they conducted surveillance against Jesus, they sent spies pretending to be sincere. Their purpose was to catch Him in something He said so they could turn Him over to the authority of the governor. So they asked Him,
‘Teacher, we know that you speak and teach correctly, and you don’t change your teaching based on changing faces. You truthfully teach God’s way. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’
Perceiving their shrewd test and evil intent, He said, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription is on it?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ He clinched the discussion, ‘Then give the things to Caesar that belong to him. Give to God the things that belong to Him.’
They were not strong enough to catch Him in His words before the people. Silent, they marveled at His response.” Luke 20:20-26
Whether it’s the interrogators in a doctoral exam or reporters trying to embarrass or destroy a political candidate, we know the game of cat and mouse played in the questions and answer game. I need to remember that this can become a very serious game—a game that can lead to murder.
Those who came to question Jesus wanted to kill Him. If Jesus replied against paying taxes, the Roman soldiers could immediately arrest Him as an insurrectionist. If He said the Jews should pay taxes, then every intensely patriotic zealot in the crowd would want to put a dagger in Him. I need to listen to Jesus and live today remembering that I belong to God. I’m stamped with His image and not an idolatrous trust in politics.
LORD, help me not to be naïve about the dark, murderous violence that lies in the human heart. Give me Jesus’ cunning to perceive deceit and evil intent and to respond with wise, straight talk. Help me to remember that Jesus distinguished spiritual commitment from political responsibility. LORD, my ultimate allegiance is Yours , not my country’s.
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