So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said. … So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor’s.” He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Luke 20:20-25 NRSV)
SHORTLY AFTER ENTERING JERUSALEM, Jesus went to the Temple and found that the merchants and moneychangers had been filling their own pockets by forcing worshipers to exchange coins or purchase animals for sacrifice at prices well above market. Jesus drove them out, enraging both the merchants and the religious authorities, who also made money off the arrangement.
After that, Jesus taught in the Temple courts each day, and hundreds came to hear him. But the religious leaders were determined to trap him in his words, by leading him either to say something they could claim was blasphemous, or to say something against Rome that would allow them to turn Jesus over to Pilate as a revolutionary. In today’s Scripture, the trap they set was a clever one. If Jesus suggested it was lawful to pay taxes, then he would alienate those who resented the annual tribute owed to the emperor. If he said people should not pay taxes, then he would be turned over to the Romans as a dissident.
In response to their query, Jesus asked for a denarius, the common coin of his day. The coin represented a day’s wages for a common laborer and the annual tribute due the Emperor from every adult male in Palestine. Jesus asked whose image was on the coin. The Greek word for “image” is eikon—icon. This was also the word that was used in the Greek translation of Genesis 1:27, where God made human beings in his image—his icon.
The head on the coin was likely that of the reigning emperor, Tiberius, and the inscription probably read, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.” So the leaders replied, “The emperor’s” (Luke 20:24). Then came the brilliant response by Jesus: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25).
Who could argue with his logic? The coin was struck in Caesar’s image; render it unto Caesar. But you are another matter. Your heart, your mind, your soul were made in the image of God. Render unto God the things that are God’s.
The Covenant Prayer of the early Methodists is an example of a prayer aimed at helping the one praying it to “give to God the things that are God’s.” I invite you to make this your prayer today:
I am no longer my own but thine. Put me to what you will. Rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing or put me to suffering. Let me be exalted by thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full or let me be empty. Let me have all things or let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, most glorious and blessed God, thou art mine and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant that I have made on earth let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Today's post is an excerpt from The Way: 40 Days of Reflection. Feel free to post the graphic of The Covenant Prayer below to your Facebook and Pinterest pages.