Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.
Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that ‘if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.’ There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.”
Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”Mark 12:13-27
“‘Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes.” Most of us are familiar with this quote from Christopher Bullock’s 1719 play. These days we quote the line as a tongue-in-cheek resignation to the reality of taxation, cynically juxtaposing it with the other unhappy reality that is death. However, in Jesus’ day, many Jews actually saw taxation as a life-and-death matter. Many pious Jews were unhappy with the payment of taxes to the Roman Empire since it represented a recognition of a pagan emperor’s sovereignty and their submission to him. This sore spot was a flashpoint that had previously led to a failed Jewish revolt against the Romans in 6 A.D.
In our passage today, the Pharisees and Herodians decided to trap Jesus by questioning him about the seemingly life-and-death matter of taxation. It was a trap because if Jesus agreed with paying taxes, he would be considered impious by the Jewish people, and if he disagreed with paying taxes, he would be seen as a revoutionary by the Romans. Jesus told them to produce a denarius coin, which had the image of the emperor on it with a inscription of him as “Son of Divine Augustus.” Obviously, they had to be carrying the denarius around with them to produce it, and it meant that they were living (engaging in commerce) by the coins that bore the image and inscription of the emperor. If that was the case, it was only right they paid taxes.
However, there seems to be a deeper truth conveyed by Jesus here. Whether or not one pays taxes is inconsequential to God. Since the emperor has his idolatrous images and inscriptions on his coins, he can have his coins back. On the other hand, it is the image of God that is imprinted on humans and his moral law that is inscribed on their hearts. Hence, what is crucial for piety is not being hung up about paying taxes. Instead, it is giving over to God one’s entire being in an obedience of faith. Jesus exposed what was at the heart of the matter: the Pharisees and the Herodians cared little about true piety since they were only concerned with murder here.
Of course, it is only with Jesus that we see someone who truly rendered to God what belongs to him: complete faithfulness and obedience unto death. May God help us to render to him what belongs to him, that is, our entire being; may all our thoughts, words, and deeds be a holy and acceptable sacrifice pleasing to him through Jesus Christ our Lord.