Matthew chapter 22, verses 15-21
Jesus' public life was entering its final stages. Matthew characterizes Him as one determined more than ever to nail down basic principles. To this end he employed His favourite device of story telling.
Unlike many religious leaders, then and now, Jesus was not very concerned with rules and regulations. He was concerned with principles, fundamental principles, and the people loved Him for it.
In Matthew chapter 22, verse 15 we witness a concerted effort to trip Him up and to make Him look like a spinner of vague impractical concepts. The Herodians representing the puppet King Herod and the Pharisees, the ecclesial aristocracy, were never the best of friends but when it came to destroying Jesus, they found common ground.
Their plan was a good one. They would ask Him a question demanding a "yes" or a "no" and He would lose either way: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?" If He said "no" as would have most Jews, He would be accused of sedition and handed over to the Roman authorities by the Herodians. If "yes," the Pharisees would condemn Him for betraying all of that which is holy!
The particular tax in question was the Poll tax demanded of everyone from teenagers to the age 65. It represented a day's labour and was paid with a Roman coin called a denarius bearing the image of the emperor as well as the idolatrous inscription: "Majestic Son of the Majestic God."
"Show me a denarius," said Jesus. "Whose image do you see?"
"Caesar's," came the answer. What Jesus said next, can, I believe be paraphrased and expanded in this manner: "Then give it to Caesar. Give it to him in return for roads and wells and protection and for assorted economic benefits related to being part of the Empire."
And then Jesus turns the tables on those who would embarrass Him by not only answering their question but by taking it one step further, with the hope of giving them something to think about.
"Remember that just as Caesar's image is stamped upon the Roman coin, so too is God's image stamped upon your individual souls. This means that you have an obligation to participate in the realization and support of God's reign ...a reign characterized, above all, by charity and justice without limitation."
Could the Pharisees and Herodians protest that they were not created in the image and likeness of God? Not likely!
Could they protest that they were not beneficiaries of the Roman occupation? Not likely!
Could they pause, reflect and learn from the encounter? Yes, hopefully! And so might we!