Would you rather?
As I play Dad’s taxi rather a lot, I get to overhear my teenagers and their friends. They play “Would you rather?” a lot. Two unpalatable choices and you have to choose.
In the escalating conflict with the religious leaders the Pharisees come to Jesus with their would you rather? Should you pay taxes to Caesar or not? If Jesus answers yes then He is shattering expectations that the Messiah would overthrow the Roman occupation. If He answers no, he is liable for arrest for fomenting revolution. Jesus deftly evades the ‘would you rather’ with His answer. Bring me a Denarius. Jesus is so poor and yet happy, he has to ask for a coin. It bore the legend of Caesar on it – by using it people are acknowledging his authority and the obligation to pay taxes. To benefit from roads, justice, freedom from invasion and other things they must make a contribution. So Jesus says to enjoy Caesar’s benefits, pay his taxes. But by saying render to God what is God’s, he is refuting a fundamental conception about how closely the state and religion are connected – Caesar was considered a god and Jesus is rejecting that.’Yes’ to paying Caesar’s taxes; ‘No’ to worshipping Caesar. Brilliant.
Practically we must pay our taxes and not avoid them by doing cash jobs that aren’t declared. We must also think carefully about evading taxes by exploiting loopholes – paying our fair share as we enjoy the benefits of the state and helping to support those in need is a principle Jesus expounds here while silencing his first critics.
Next, in v23, the Sadducees come to test Jesus and ridicule His belief in the resurrection, with a ridiculous question about marriage in heaven. Jesus’ answer is that they don’t understand the Scriptures or the power of God, who is the God of the living not the dead. The Sadducees prided themselves on knowing the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) but rejected the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures. They didn’t know the power of God that changes us and will raise us from the dead.
Not satisfied the Pharisees come back with a question about which is the greatest commandment. Jesus’ answer focuses not on achievements, like ethics, which the Pharisees would have been hot on, but on attitude – love. We may be able to boast of achievements, but nobody can boast of having a perfect attitude. None of us has loved God with every fibre of our being. None of us have loved our neighbours with everything. So no-one can merit eternal life. We need grace! And God gives us love for Him that overflows to loving others around us.
Finally Jesus asks his opposition a question based on their assumption of who the Messiah is from Psalm 110:1. The Jewish expectation is of someone from David’s line who would gather the people in revolt and overthrow the Romans. So when Jesus asks ‘What do you think about the Christ, whose son is he?’ they answer “The Son of David”. So Jesus uses Psalm 110:1 which shows the Messiah is of the line of David, and David calls him Lord. How could that happen? The son of David is merely human. The Messiah is more than that – he is the Son of God too! Jesus claims to be David’s son and David’s Lord. How can they answer? Why don’t they believe him when his words and works are so powerful? They have blinded themselves to the truth and woe is on them. More on that tomorrow!
So what do we do…
1) Pay our taxes.
2) Rely on God’s Spirit to fill us with the love of God, so we can love God and others with every fibre of our beings.
3) Thank God for His grace and ask for more.