Christ The Teacher: Render To Caesar

Jesus had his share of controversies and some of these were political, not religious.

In his time, Judaea was a colony of Rome subject to Roman taxation. The tax had to be paid in Roman silver coinage which bore the head of the reigning emperor.

This occasioned more than a little tension among the Jews. Some of them objected to handling the coins as being tantamount to idolatry. Others objected on nationalistic grounds. But everyone resented having to pay the tax at all, even when compelled to do so.

The question that is posed to Jesus is crafty. Whatever Jesus says will give offence to some party or other. Jesus calls for a coin of the tribute and displays it to his interlocutors. If you use a Roman coin, he says, you implicitly accept Rome’s dominion over you. Therefore give to the emperor what is his due. And he adds, Give to God what is his.

This pronouncement of Jesus has been quoted time and again and usually out of context. Among the first Christians, the belief in the Second Coming of Christ was dominant and with it, the end of all earthy kingdoms. So Jesus’s statement was not so much about political authority as about the relative insignificance of earthly power.

But as time went by and the expectation of the imminent end of the world had abated among the disciples, this statement was reinterpreted to mean that a man’s obedience to civil authority need not contradict his obedience to God. Each one has its proper sphere.

The danger comes when civil authority encroaches on the space given to God or on one’s personal conscience. Throughout the ages, Christians have been persecuted and even martyred for defending their right to honor the things of God.

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