“Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” (Matthew 22:21)
Relate: Real quick, open up your wallet. Grab your change purse or wherever you store your coins and pull some out. What do you see? Honestly, I don’t know who these guys are on my money. Mustafa Kemal, obviously. Images of that guy are everywhere but some of these others… Mimar Kemaleddin, Aydin Sayili, Cahit Arf. Who are these folks? The illustration works better for you Americans than it does for me here. You Americans are probably seeing pictures of people like Washington, Roosevelt, Lincoln, Jackson… maybe even one or two coins with Queen Elizabeth (dang Canadians sneaking their money across borders despite Trump’s best efforts to keep it out)
Most of your bills and coins feature dead presidents. Most of those presidents were great leaders in the history of American government. I was tempted to lie so that I could say “all” on both counts, but that would be cheating. Hamilton was no president (though he was a great political leader) and the Queen… there is a great meme of her floating around at the moment but that is another story. I can’t say they are all presidents, though, because of Hamilton. He keeps me from being to make blanket statements. In a way, so do these Turkish guys. While you would all probably never know, if I started making up great stories of who they are then I would be sneaking away from my responsibility to tell the truth.
That is exactly what the Pharisees were trying to do. They were so against Rome that about a decade before this confrontation with Jesus they had passed eighteen edicts forbidding people from associating with gentiles and those that would collaborate with gentiles. By coming to Jesus in league with the Herodians and in presenting to him with a Roman coin, they broke two of their own edicts. They were trying to get Jesus either to compromise his popularity or to condone breaking the law, but in their attempt to get Him to do one of these things, they did both themselves, and Jesus exposed them for it.
React: In reading this story in Matthew, two questions generally pop into my mind. What belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God? My natural human tendency, like the Pharisees, is to claim everything for the latter while giving both as little as possible. Like the Pharisees, I can be big on my boasts and ambitions for God, but am I using “evil government” as an excuse for not accomplishing what I say I would like to? I can’t pray in schools because government doesn’t mandate it. Divorce is rampant in the church because government refuses to protect the sanctity of marriage. I can’t show love to the foreigner and immigrant among us like the Bible commands because the government signed an executive order to keep them out. On the one hand I claim I want smaller government while on the other endow them with mystical powers far beyond their reach as an excuse for my own laziness and apathy.
What belongs to Washington? Respect… Obedience… and those things in my wallet with the faces of our past leaders. What belongs to God? Everything. More importantly, everything in deed and not just in word. Did you get my W2 in the mail yet? You’ll have to be filling it out and turning it in soon. Will you try to cheat a living president so that you can keep a few extra dead presidents? How many dead presidents have I been giving to God? What about my respect? Do I bash God’s divinely ordained authority or am I giving to Him the respect God requires? What about God’s bride? Am I constantly criticizing her or am I doing what I can to make her more beautiful? What about obedience?