The Pharisees were desperate to trap Jesus in his speech so they’d have grounds for turning him over to Roman governor. So one day, feigning sincerity, they asked Jesus whether it was proper to pay the poll tax to Caesar or not (Matt. 22:17). A Yes would get him in trouble with the people and a No would make him a threat to the government. So Jesus requested a coin and, receiving it, asked whose image and name was on it. When they acknowledged it was Caesar’s, he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” It was a straightforward question, but it left them unable to respond.
So what did Jesus accomplish in this encounter? I believe he made his point by simplifying the issue. He could have gone into a long discussion about the relationship of religion and government, or addressed the ethical problem facing the Jewish people by virtue of the dilemma between their faith and their moral responsibility to Roman overlords. Instead, he said, Give Caesar what belongs to him and to God what belongs to him. In clarifying the issue he used a principle quite similar to what is known as KISS, “Keep it simple stupid” (Note: no comma, as Kelly Johnson, the aircraft engineer stated it originally). Jesus took what could have become an exceedingly complicated issue and made it simple. Advance in every intellectual discipline is the triumph of simplicity over complexity.
Simplicity has become the goal in many areas of life. Japanese art forms, such as painting, theater, and flower arrangement, all reflect the beauty of simplicity. Karl Barth, the famous German theologian, summarized a lifetime of scholarly research with the words, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.” John Calvin praised “lucid clarity” as the goal for writing. Take almost any sentence you have written and remove every word that isn’t absolutely necessary and you will be surprised how much better it reads. Simplicity has a remarkable charm and strength.
So, as Jesus simplified the issue of where to give what, we would probably do well to remove from our lives the unnecessary clutter of stuff. Issues are complicated only when sufficient time hasn’t been given to thinking them through. Lives become complicated with too many unclassified responsibilities. Jesus became incarnate to solve the complexity of mankind’s moral history. He did it by dying and rising again. Simple, clear, and powerful! Our Savior’s life recommends that we adopt what might be called Christian minimalism. When you get right down to it, some things are so vitally important that other things must be set aside. KISS.