Let’s talk about taxes and Jesus.
There are often levels of meaning in a conversation. On one deployment my husband responded to what was said with a first level understanding response. What most of the soldiers didn’t know was that Ryan’s response was also a quote from a TV show. One soldier got the subtext, though, and laughingly accused Ryan of watching Gilmore Girls. After that the two of them continued to bond over this shared interest they’d picked up from their wives.
Jesus was excellent at building levels into his teachings, and studying the scriptures in the Bible year after year opens the eyes of a seeker to new levels even though the same words are on the printed page. There were two kind of taxes in Jesus’ day and before, there were church taxes and government taxes. He addresses both in his teachings recorded for us in the New Testament, later time and portion of books in the Bible.
One is the “two drachma tax” teaching where Jews from the temple question whether or not Jesus is paying the tax for the maintenance of the temple (Exodus 30:13-16). The freedom of the children of God, obligations, and payments all come into play, but I’ll refer you to John Piper’s excellent post about this for more information.
Instead let us look at two levels of Caesar’s tax when Pharisees asked Jesus about taxes hoping to trap into saying something so the Roman government would take care of Jesus.
“Tell us therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:17-21, Mark 12:14-17, Luke 20:22-25).
Should the children of God pay their taxes even when the government over them is from an invading force that oppresses them every day? Jesus said to pay. That’s level one meaning.
A couple of times I’ve heard someone say they paid using the E-Z form, and I became concerned. Jesus said to give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, not to give more. If we are able to take legal deductions and credits, then by all means, take them.
The second level of meaning has to do with Jesus asking about the “likeness” on the coin. How many of the religious leaders, teachers of Moses’ writings caught the second meaning? The first book of the scripture for Jews and Christians says:
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them (Genesis 1:26,27)
Give to God the things that are God’s. What things are these? Ourselves. Made in His image, in His likeness, I am to give all of me for Him, to Him, each day. A-day was All Belongs to God, and T-day underlines this truth further. Not only the gold and silver, not only the cattle on a thousand hills, not only the whole earth, but also me, I belong to God with a freedom to give myself back to him or not. It’s not one and done, it’s making that decision and acting on it moment by moment.
It is often a struggle, a challenge. But I know I am never taking it on alone.