Our lesson today is timely since it deals with paying taxes. Some spies sent by the Temple officials attempted to trap Jesus with a question that was designed to put him at odds with everyone.
It had to do with paying taxes to the Roman government.
— Luke 20.20-22 – So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor.
So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth.
“Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
The taxes amounted to a day’s worth of labor for a common worker, but they posed a problem to the Jewish people.
(1) The people who lived on the margins of society would have been negatively impacted by the tax.
Starvation for the extremely poor was a common problem in first-century Israel. The various taxes placed a burden on the poor with crushing results.
(2) Taxes to the Roman government reminded the people that they were subjects of the Roman Empire.
Several revolts against Roman rule are a testimony to how the people hated their position concerning Rome.
(3) If Jesus taught that taxes should not be paid to the Romans, he would be branded a rebel.
It would be a simple matter for the temple spies to report Jesus to the Roman authorities and have him arrested. The penalty for revolution in the Roman Empire was crucifixion.
(4) The Sanhedrin in Jerusalem was responsible for collecting taxes for Rome.
They, too, were in a bind. They may have been seen as working for Rome. On the other hand, the tax could have been seen as a small price to pay for Rome to allow the Temple to function.
The question put Jesus on the spot. If he said that the tax was invalid, he would be arrested by the Romans. If he said to pay the tax, he would have fallen out of favor with the people.
— Luke 20.23-25 – But he perceived their craftiness and said to them,
“Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?”
They said, “The emperor’s.”
He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Possibly, the best way to understand Jesus’ response is to recall his words about serving two masters.
— Luke 16.13 – No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
A nation has a rightful claim on the wealth of its subjects. It is appropriate to pay taxes, knowing at the same time that our ultimate loyalty is to God.
I have been influenced by a recent study of the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah received his call after Uzziah died (Isaiah 6).
Uzziah was a very good king over Israel. As good as he was, Isaiah and the nation could not place their trust in an earthly ruler.
Isaiah’s message to the nation was to fully rely on God. Anything less would result in disaster.
The same is true in first-century Israel and 2021. We may and should fulfill our responsibility to the government, but our ultimate trust and loyalty must be to God.
The Spies Silenced
Every argument with Jesus is bound to end in a loss. The spies found that out and we will, too.
Paul’s words are important to remember when we think we can outsmart God.
–– Romans 1.21-22 – For though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.
Claiming to be wise, they became fools . . .
Our best response to Jesus is to follow the example of Mary (Luke 10.38-42) and eagerly learn from his wisdom.
Rudy Ross and I discuss this passage on YouTube today. Rudy has insights that you will want to hear. The videos are on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel.
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