Happy Tax Day. I “rendered to Caesar” this morning.
But here’s something to ponder: Jesus command to “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”, was... what?
(A) A clear distinction between religion and politics, implying that Caesar’s taxes were lawful and should be paid. Jesus was trying to transform the individual heart above all. While he opposed exploitation of the poor, he identified the problem not in sociopolitical structures but in individuals. (Martin Hengel, Victory over Violence.)
(B) An enigma which deliberately left the issue unresolved. Jesus wanted to make people think for themselves and decide on their own if Caesar and God were compatible. On top of this, he “probably slipped the coin into his purse while they were haggling over what he told them.” (Robert Funk, The Five Gospels.)
(C) A paradoxical command to revolt and pay taxes at the same time. Jesus was protesting both against Caesar as a false lord and against tax-evading revolutionaries. His punchline meant: “Pay back Caesar as he deserves, and give God the divine honor claimed by Caesar.” In so doing he was implying that tax-evading revolutionaries were the true compromisers with Rome. (N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God.)
(D) A cryptic way of saying that Caesar’s taxes were unlawful but should be paid “with contempt” in order to rid the land of idolatry. Jesus’ punchline meant: “Give Caesar back his filthy coins, and give your total allegiance to God, so that Caesar and his coins may be removed from God’s land.” People should pay their taxes in contempt or as an act of non-violent resistance, meaning that Caesar had no valid claim on people, even if he was entitled to his filthy currency. (William Herzog, Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God.)
(E) A cryptic way of saying that Caesar’s taxes were unlawful and should not be paid at all. Jesus’ punchline meant: “Give Caesar nothing, God everything.” Jesus believed no one could serve two masters at the same time (Mt. 6:24/Lk. 16:13) and followed the early Israelite tradition that since God was king, no one else could be (Judg. 8:22-23; I Sam 8:4-7; Hos. 8:4). (Richard Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence.)
Thanks for your permission to repost this, Loren!