9th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday
We Have No King But Caesar
“Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not pay?”
The Pharisees and the Herodians thought they had Jesus cornered. Popular political figures at the time, like Judas the Gaulonite, rallied many devout Jews to view Caesar as an enemy of religion; God alone was their ruler. If Jesus answered “yes,” he would lose his followers. If he answered “no,” they could report him to the Roman authorities as a rebel and get rid of him.
Utterly unfazed, Jesus answered their question with another question. Looking at a Roman coin in their possession, he asked, “Whose image and inscription is this?” Out of their own mouths came the reply, “Caesar’s.” Then came Jesus’ unforgettable response: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”
Divine and human governance each have their own proper spheres. One must render to civil authorities their due but give God our very persons created for eternal life. Earthly coins corrode and decay, but the image of God stamped upon us lasts forever. We are the coin of God (St. Augustine).
The hypocrisy displayed in this episode climaxed before Pontius Pilate when the chief priests handed Jesus over to be crucified. Duplicitously, they declared, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).