During the final days of Jesus’ ministry here on earth opposition against him grew accordingly. Pharisees joined with their adversaries the Herodians to set a trap (pagideuo is a hunting term meaning “to snare or trap”) that would give them grounds to turn him over to the Roman overlords. So on one occasion they met him and, after flattering him with words about his integrity and willingness to speak his mind in any situation, they posed their cagey question about paying taxes to Caesar or not. A No answer would put him in trouble with the civil authorities and a Yes answer would cost him his popularity with the people.
At this point Jesus could have gone off on a long and complicated discussion of the role of personal religious choice in a complicated civil setting. Instead, he rather abruptly identified them for what they were, “hypocrites,” and asked for the coin required for the tax. “Whose image is this on the coin?” he asked and they said “Caesar’s.” And now comes his response: “Give to Caesar what belongs to him and to God what belongs to him.” The authorities were taken aback at his answer, fell silent and slipped away.
That is how Jesus handled the situation. Rather than allowing his opposition to trap him into solving the dilemma with words, he took action and that put them on the defense. A masterful stroke. So now comes the question for today’s believer who wants to imitate Christ in his daily conduct. Is there anything here that is transferable to us today?
Several things come to mind. First, he clearly identified his opposition. They were “hypocrites,” feigning an interest in the question of whether the Jews should pay taxes imposed by the Romans while the purpose in the entire charade was to trap Jesus. The Greek hypokrites is a stage actor, pretending to be someone he is not. While it may not always be helpful to call opponents undesirable names, it is a good idea to know and name one’s rival. Second, to make his point Jesus didn’t rely solely on words. He simplified the issue by turning it into an interchange that actually involved their participation. Learning is more effective when it is objectified as much as possible. There on the coin was the carved image of the emperor. Seems obvious that the coin bearing his inscription should go to him. It belonged to him, and other things belonged to God. For us this suggests that we need to think through the issues and be able to make the most plausible argument to support them. And finally, he apparently did not boast about winning the argument. The authorities were set back with nothing to say and found a way to leave as quickly as possible. Jesus did not taunt them in their retreat.