As the hours ticked away during the days between Palm Sunday and Easter, the enemies of Jesus scrambled to find new strategies. Where one technique failed, they deployed another, attempting to find ‘just cause’ for his arrest, trial and ultimate death according to ‘their plan’ or so they thought!
Various religious and political parties combined forces in an attempt to catch him in his words. Jesus taught publicly–surely there would be some slip, some gaffe in his conversation. After all, no one is perfect, right?
The strategy this time would be one of flattery, praise and then a loaded question.
“Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” So far, so good. A man of integrity? Isn’t that the core issue where leaders fail? Is integrity not an essential trait for spiritual leaders? Lacking it, you lack everything. Jesus was a principled, purposeful leader. He wasn’t swayed by popular opinion and even his enemies acknowledge his teaching the way of God in accordance with the truth. If only they had known, He is the truth, the standard by which all ‘truths’ are measured. Listening recently to some so called ‘preachers’ I think many churches have lost ground on this conviction!!!
Now here comes the loaded question. Roman authority was a contestable topic of discussion. Rabbis didn’t love Rome. They tolerated the usurped authorities much like the Jews had tolerated Nebuchadnezzar’s role with Babylonian authority several centuries earlier.
“Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” Taxation–everyone’s favourite subject–or not! Is it right? Does Jesus support taxation? If he says yes, he will be endorsing Rome, the enemy of the Jewish state. If he says no, he will be advocating rebellion towards a legitimate authority? Will he anger the Jews or the Romans? Which side will he defend?
At this juncture, the gospel writer reveals the motive of hypocrisy in the lives of the questioners. “But Jesus knew thei hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. This question they did not answer. They weren’t men of integrity. They were men who were swayed by men and paid attention to the status occupied by those around them. The contrast could not have been more revealing.
“Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” Had he not seen one before? The funding formula for the Saviour’s ministry was one of dependence upon God not Rome. Several women had shared their resources to support the Master and His disciples as they carried on an itinerant ministry. Jesus, himself, taught a great deal about money elsewhere.
He pressed them with two questions. #1 Whose portrait is this? And #2 And whose inscription? The answer stared them in the face. Roman currency was embedded with the image of the Emperor. They answered, “Caesar’s”
The coin revealed the truth, the conviction which Jesus pressed upon them, and His disciples in yet another teaching opportunity. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s .” His answer amazed them and has left interpreters hours of work in observing, interpreting and applying what this one summary sentence means. Once again, this Man of integrity had spoken the way of God in accordance with the truth, something every Christ-honouring teacher should do with every speaking opportunity.