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Lesson 6: Teacher

You don’t pay taxes—they take taxes!

– Chris Rock  

Devotion: Read Matthew 22:15-22. The religious leaders want to trap Jesus with a hot-button political issue. The Pharisees and the common people hate their Roman oppressors. In return for power and favor, the Herodians support Rome and the idea of paying Caesar’s taxes. If Jesus publicly supports the tax (one Roman denarius per person), the crowd will turn against him. If he says people should not pay the tax, he can be arrested as a revolutionary. The fact they have coins in their pocket shows they already cooperate with Rome. The coin’s inscription reads “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus.” In other words, it reads “Caesar…son of God.” Jesus avoids saying to pay the tax or not. He points out that if you have the coin, you are cooperating with Rome, receiving the benefits of that relationship, and are beholden to Caesar. If we receive benefits from the government, we should not be surprised that “Rome” expects something from us in return. His statement “Give therefore to the emperor…” forces the question back on them, and us. Where have we compromised ourselves with government, culture, the world, etc.? What part of you and your possessions belong to God? If everything in your life belongs to God, then live in a way that honors God with all things. If I tithe (donating 10% of income), can I do whatever I want with the other 90% or does the 90% also belong to God? Should the Church stop accepting tax-free status from the government? What does the government expect in return for this benefit?

Personal Worship Option: What is your attitude toward paying taxes? …giving financially to the church? …other charitable giving? …spending on yourself? What do your attitudes in these areas teach you about yourself? Spend time in prayer reflecting on your approach to finances.  

Dig A Little Deeper:

Read Matthew 17:24-27. Why does Jesus respond differently to the question about paying the temple tax? How do the two settings affect his response? Should Christians pay taxes that support activities they feel are immoral?  

22:15 Herodians and Pharisees are enemies. Herodians support the dynasty of Herod, which is currently led by Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. The fact they are working with the Pharisees demonstrates that both sides fear Jesus more than they hate each other. What is the danger of religious groups aligning themselves too closely with political power?

22:17 Both Zealots and Pharisees believe paying taxes to a foreign oppressor is unacceptable. The difference is zealots are willing to use force to achieve independence while Pharisees are not willing to begin a revolution. The way the question is phrased suggests the answer will be that Jesus is a zealot. Is it ever acceptable for Christians to use violence to achieve their ends?

22:18 Their hypocrisy is evident in that these two groups, who do not agree on the issue of taxes, are working in conjunction with each other to trap Jesus.

22:21 Jesus accepts that Caesar currently holds the worldly power. That truth is symbolized by the coin, which can only be minted by those in charge. Jesus does not address whether God is pleased with this situation or Caesar has the right to rule Israel. Jesus’ answer does not divide the world into sacred and secular jurisdictions, although that is a popular interpretation. Nor does he answer the question of what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar. He leaves that up to the listener to decide. No person can serve two masters (Mt 6:24). What are the current political hot button issues Christians face?

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