Tribute To Caesar
Ordinary 29 Year A
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Matthew 22: 15 — 22
Immediately prior to the event occurring in our reading, our Lord had told three parables distinctly aimed at reaching out to the religious authorities who were staunchly rejecting His teaching. Jesus knew this was going to be an uphill battle. And so it was.
The first two parables emphasised the need for listening to what God says, and obeying Him; thus bearing fruit. The third one showed the need to be clothed in God’s holiness (God’s wholeness), which Jesus freely offered. Instead of hearing what our Lord was saying, and going away to put it into practice, they went away to plan His destruction. In doing this, they showed they had not heard nor understood Him, and were totally devoid of the fruit He warned they must produce.
Some Reflections on our Text
Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might
entrap him in speech.
They had been completely outflanked in their attempt to discredit Jesus in front of His Temple audience. They would have taken Him into custody but with so many supporters present, there was too much to risk. Accordingly they retired to an office out of the reach of the public, and there they decided to select from among their own followers, the most experienced debaters, and trap Jesus with His own words. For added support, they also made plans with the supporters of Herod’s corrupt puppet government of the Romans.
They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying,
“Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you
teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you
are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not
regard a person’s status.
Interestingly, when the entourage arrived at the place where Jesus was sitting, they addressed him as a top-ranking rabbi though their language also betrays personal lack of belief in Him. They then paid their respects, in Jewish custom, before proceeding. Since these were possibly, what we might term, “trainee rabbis,” there was no need to consider their introductory comments as totally insincere.
Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the
census tax to Caesar or not?”
However polite their opening remarks, the representatives soon got down to business. They challenged Jesus in a typical rabbinic debate hoping that He would become so absorbed with giving an adequate answer, that He might make some comments which could be used to have Him charged with a criminal offence.
We should note that the reference to paying the tax being “lawful” means — is it permitted by the Law of God (the Torah.)?
They present Jesus with a perfect dilemma. If He said “Yes”, He was disloyal to His nation: if “No”, rebelling against Rome. Needless to say, they hoped for a negative answer, in which case they would have denounced Jesus to the Governor as a rebel.
Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me,
Jesus was a step ahead of them and signalled that He knew they were playing to an audience. He then asked the reason for their action. In this way, our Lord matched their malice with His wisdom to try and stir their consciences. If only they would pause to answer His question, they might take a look at themselves and realise He had much to teach them, and they had much they needed to learn from Him. Our Lord then formally answered their question, but did so very skilfully on His own terms.
Verses 19 – 21
Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed
him the Roman coin.
He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”
They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay
to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs
In one sentence Jesus answers the question in principle, without determining in detail
the obligations of Israel towards the Roman authorities. In ancient as in modern times,
the right to coin money was a prerogative of sovereignty, and by accepting the coin of
the realm the Israelites acknowledged themselves to be the Emperorꞌs subjects. Hence,
they were bound to fulfill the duties of subjects, such as the payment of taxes.
(L. F. Miller)
Pause For Reflection on the Text
It was disciples of the Herodians and the Pharisees who initiated this encounter. Jesus therefore, as usual, went along with their contrived scenario and used it to try and give them a chance to change the direction of their lives. He shrewdly asked for a coin. Special copper coins without the hated Roman Imperial images were minted for normal commerce among Jews. The Temple tribute was paid in Jewish shekels. Therefore, apart from when the poll (census) tax was paid there was no need to carry Roman coinage.
When Jesus said, “Show me the coin that pays the census tax,” it was tantamount to saying, “I do not possess the coin used to pay tribute to the Emperor; you show me.” They quickly produced a denarius. That was the opportunity for Jesus to confront them in a way they would, if they wished, understand and benefit from.
The denarius bore an image of the Emperor’s head and the inscription (in Latin) “Tiberius Caesar, son of the Divine Augustus.” On the other side was the inscription “pontifex maximus”, high priest. So offensive was this, that devout Jews would carry it only when they had to, and certainly never in the Temple precincts.
When He gave His judgement, Jesus indicated that one is obliged to repay to Caesar what is lawfully his; but equally is one obliged to render to God what is His! He was implying, “You who seem so troubled about carrying a coin with pagan imagery and inscriptions, suddenly have no difficulty producing it when you want to! I don’t carry it on me. But since you are so willing to do so, when it suits, you must pay Caesar his tribute for the privilege of benefiting from the whole imperial system he represents.”
Created in the image of God
So far Jesus has dealt only with the hypocrisy of His protagonists. But that is of less importance than their religious obligations. He quickly applied the same logic to fulfilling one’s obligations to God, who created us in His image. The main emphasis in the teaching of Jesus had been giving God His due: producing good fruit. He saw Himself as restoring the image of God to our whole being, and teaching all that this involved and implied.
Volumes have been written on the theme of restoration in the image of God. For now, it would help us remember that we are talking about restoration to wholeness; returning to a state of being at one with God; working in harmony with God for His greater glory, and the material and spiritual wellbeing of the whole of creation. For two and a half years Jesus had been calling people back to this intensely close relationship with their Creator, in which their human will was surrendered to God and His divine plan.
If our Lord’s detractors were so preoccupied with being seen to distance themselves from images of Caesar, he had every right to expect that they would wish to seek the closest resemblance to the image of God, especially when they were staring at it!
This is where Jesus met clear, deliberate, though masked opposition. In truth, the corrupt authorities whom these trainee rabbis represented were rejecting not only the image of God stamped on their hearts, but also the image of God He openly claimed to represent. They opposed it because they knew it meant they would lose control and authority to direct things, even the affairs of God, the way they wanted. (How very human. Not to miss the point — something we need to avoid!)
Verse 22: Finale
As St. Matthew records:
When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving him they
They knew instantly that He had looked right into the depths of their minds and hearts and that He had read them absolutely correctly. “They were amazed.” The sad moment for our Lord was that, having realised this, they did not stay and let Him put things right. “So they left Him and went away.” The tragedy was not just that they went off back to the Pharisees, to plan His destruction, but that they were completely unconcerned and unaware about the approach of their own.
There are similar parallels here as with the series of three parables which led up to this incident. When Christians are preoccupied with forcing the progress of their own plans, no matter how sincerely conceived, they are in fact displaying the same spiritual blindness as the leaders involved in this unsuccessful artifice. In the early centuries of the Church’s battle for survival, its saints, prophets and teachers were very clear in their minds about the need for everyone to be fully restored in the image of God. It features often in their marvellous writings, and even more graphically in their sufferings and martyrdoms for the Lord.
Never in the history of the Church, has there been such widespread and varied distortion of the Gospel teaching of Jesus, as we see in our own times. Fundamentally it is caused by the same spiritual battle being fought within the souls of those who claim to be modern day followers of Jesus, as was seen in our Gospel text of paying tribute to Caesar.
Our Lord continues to challenge each of us to stay in His presence and let Him heal (which means, make whole) our scars and restore God’s image in us. Sadly we are often “hell-bent” on going our own way and determined, deep down, that it is He who will eventually conform to our will, not the other way round. We are quick to point out the ungodliness of the Pharisees for doing this, but turn “a blind eye” to our own tendency to practise various forms of misguided “new age” religion, and essentially to do the same as they do.
This state of affairs is so advanced in its hold on many Christians, that the survival of the Church as we know it in the immediate future is now extremely precarious! For those who do listen and try to bear the fruit our Lord expects, it must be a matter of intense prayer and constant recommitment.
The good news is that there is much to hope for and if you are reading this or other Bible based meditational material there is the solace in knowing you are called to share our Lord’s caring concern for his Church and for the whole world for which it is meant to be praying. Let’s help one another to be loyal to our Lord despite the overwhelming distractions around us which threaten our spiritual priorities and values.
For those who would like a detailed study resource on
the readings for Sunday, please visit:
If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.
To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:
This website is highly recommended:
Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
Tribute To Caesar
Ordinary 29 Year A St. Matthew 22: 15 — 22
1. No one in a country which is occupied by foreign invaders, is particularly
These disciples of the Pharisees opposing Jesus allowed themselves to be
2. There is something despicable about making a pretense of religious
3. Ironically, this “snapshot” of our Lord in action, has quite a bit to do with
Let us pray for one another that we will humbly work at learning to honour the image of
Matthew 22: 15 — 22
Ordinary 29 Year A
16 They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, 10
17 11 Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the
18 Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me,
19 12 Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they
20 He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose
21 They replied, “Caesar’s.” 13 At that he said to them, “Then
22 When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving him
8 [15-22] The series of controversies between Jesus and the representatives of Judaism (see the note on ⇒ Matthew 21:23-27) is resumed. As in the first (⇒ Matthew 21:23-27), here and in the following disputes Matthew follows his Marcan source with few modifications.
9  The Pharisees: while Matthew retains the Marcan union of Pharisees and Herodians in this account, he clearly emphasizes the Pharisees’ part. They alone are mentioned here, and the Herodians are joined with them only in a prepositional phrase of ⇒ Matthew 22:16. Entrap him in speech: the question that they will pose is intended to force Jesus to take either a position contrary to that held by the majority of the people or one that will bring him into conflict with the Roman authorities.
11  Is it lawful: the law to which they refer is the law of God.
12  They handed him the Roman coin: their readiness in producing the money implies their use of it
13  Caesar’s: the emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14-37). Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar: those who willingly use the coin that is Caesar’s should repay him in kind. The answer avoids taking sides in the question of the lawfulness of the tax. To God what belongs to God: Jesus raises the debate to a new level. Those who have hypocritically asked about tax in respect to its relation to the law of God should be concerned rather with repaying God with the good deeds that are his due; cf ⇒ Matthew 21:41, ⇒ 43.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,