Recently there has been some discussion about the mix of religious views and government policy. Namely, a prayer plaque was removed by the local school board because some considered it a violation of the 1st Amendment’s “establishment clause.” Let’s see what Jesus said about this.
Matthew 22:15-22 (NASB)
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said.
16 And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any.
17 “Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?”
18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?
19 “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius.
20 And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”
21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He *said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
22 And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.
This is a GREAT STORY from the life of Jesus that checks all the boxes for me in relation to the relationship between God’s Kingdom and government policy.
1) Notice in verse 15 that the Pharisees thought this very issue would be tricky enough that they might trap Jesus. Perhaps they felt like the church/state question would put Jesus into an impossible either/or type situation. “HA!” they thought, “let’s back Jesus into a ‘politics and religion’ question and watch him squirm.” But, notice after hearing Jesus’ response what they said in verse 22, “they were amazed.” Jesus’ answer was so “spot on” that they could only walk away, knowing their trap had sprung on them, not the Lord.
2) What was the thorny question they asked? It had to do with a per-person tax the Romans levied … did that tax violate religious law? Clearly the Romans had, by way of their secular government authority intruded into the religious life of the Jews. People of faith were offended to have to pay hard-earned money to their oppressive governors. “So, Jesus, can we apply our religious laws to this intrusion in such a way as to relieve us of this offense?”
3) Jesus responds brilliantly. Of course He had the privilege of knowing the hearts of those involved, Jesus “perceived their malice.” I must caution myself to be not overly perceptive of malice in the current controversy … especially since the malice in Matthew 22 was on the part of the religious leaders, and not the State leaders. (Note to self: think the best of people even if I disagree with them.) Now Jesus uses a simple ‘object lesson’ to make his point. A coin. Who’s face is on it? “Caesar’s.” Then by all means, give Caesar his due; but God, His due.
I am a dual citizen (well actually, more than that). I am a Citizen of the Kingdom of God, a Jesus-follower whose eternal home isn’t HERE, it’s in heaven. But I am also a citizen of the USA. And of Virginia, and Wythe County, and Wytheville. Each of these Kingdoms require tribute. I am much happier giving my attention to the Kingdom of God than the earthly authorities. But, here’s the thing, to be a good citizen of one kingdom, requires I be a good citizen of them all. “Pay Caesar,” Jesus said. “Pay God” also He says.
I look forward to seeing how our community puts into practice this passage on ‘rendering to authorities their due.’ As a devoted follower of Jesus I’m convinced I can do both.