Pay Taxes?

Lindsey Zarob, Content Manager, Central Weekends | May 28, 2024

Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.
Luke 20:20–26

My personality prefers binaries—black or white, right or wrong, true or false. Over the years, I have prayed that God would help me understand and see the gray—including the beauty that often resides there—and not stress out when the “right” thing to say or think isn’t super clear. What I have found is that wisdom often resides in the gray.

In today’s Scripture, the Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus. If He says no, to not pay taxes to Caesar, He’s setting himself up for certain death. If He says yes, pay Caesar, Jesus could be perceived as acknowledging Rome as the ultimate authority and Caesar as god. Either option is a bad option—there is no binary. 

Jesus answers the question with a question: whose image is on the denarius (the currency of the day)? The obvious and only response for the questioner is that it’s Caesar. 

Hold on: what does the image on the coin have to do with anything? I thought this was about paying taxes. 

Jesus is using this language on purpose. He’s talking about more than just the act of paying taxes, and even more than a statement about money. He’s talking about us. He’s making it clear, give to Caesar what bears his image, as it belongs to him, just as you, who bear the image of God, belong to God—so give yourselves, wholly and completely, to the One whose image you bear. 

Today’s passage is less about taxes and more about identity. As we continue in our series, What Christians Get Wrong About Christianity, we’re challenged to consider where our true allegiance lies—in a flag or in a person? And today’s Scripture challenges us to do the same. If our identity is firmly rooted in the One whose image we bear, we can trust that He is in control, and we can live freely and proudly wherever God places us—knowing that in the end, it isn’t any government that is in control but the Almighty, Sovereign and loving King Jesus. 

Also, to be clear, we should all pay our taxes. 

Next Steps

Take some time over the next few days and honestly reflect: is my trust in God or my country? Would I call myself a Christian before I would call myself an American? Can I name the ways those identities are different? Those can feel like pointed and jarring questions. Examine why those questions might feel uncomfortable to you and spend time in prayer asking God to reveal His answer for you.