Read: Luke 20:20-26
Eight times in this short passage we see the words “they” or “them” as Luke refers to those conspiring to kill Jesus.
Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. Luke 20:20
At the beginning of this chapter Luke identifies those who are leading the conspiracy as a band of self-righteous religious leaders, “the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders” (Luke 20:1). This time, instead of looking for a lesson on biblical authority, they want to trap Jesus with a question about paying taxes.
Their Plan-A is to find something Jesus says or does that would be illegal so the government would get involved. The word sedition comes to mind as I think about them in this story. If they could paint Jesus as one who is leading a cause against Roman authority, the governor would quickly and decisively remove Jesus.
It’s a great plan, but not God’s plan.
He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” Luke 20:23-24
First of all, Jesus saw through their thinly veiled plot to trap Him. Whoever drew the short straw and got the dubious honor of asking Jesus this question had to feel like an idiot. Jesus played along with a twist:
He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Luke 20:25
They might have suspected Jesus would publicly announce something along the lines of paying what you owe to the government to avoid a rather obvious illegal position, but He added “and to God” to the discussion. This put them squarely in their place and sent them running for cover.
In essence, Jesus quickly calls them out for their lack of integrity and their plot is ruined. Not only did Jesus squelch their not-so-crafty trap, He points out it’s important to be responsible in both realms: support those in civil authority and give back that which belongs to God.
If I understand the ancient practice, carrying a Denarius with Caesar’s image was evidence that I would be seen as a law-abiding citizen. Not much argument there. Here’s the question, are we carrying a coin with God’s image? Can we produce evidence that we are God’s people?
This goes far beyond pulling a church membership card or WWJD bumper sticker. In a simple phrase, Jesus commands that we pay God that which is already His. The religious leaders of the past got the point and quickly backed off. How about us?
Lord help me to lean in when I hear these challenges and do that which Jesus is clearly demanding. Help me figure out how to work within the system of government while focusing on the greater mission: spread the gospel to all parts of society.