The daily readings now turn to the Gospel of Mark, and in today’s Gospel, the Pharisees have been sent to Jesus “to ensnare him in his speech,” to stir up controversy, to use his own words against him.
They lead up to their question by praising his truthfulness and objectivity, exposing their own hypocrisy, and trying to ensure that he will be sincere and straightforward. Then they pose what seems to be a perfect question, one he cannot answer without stirring up trouble: should they pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Yes or no?
If Jesus says yes, then he is condoning the demands of Rome, responsible for the subjugation of the Jewish people. He will lose favor with the Jews who resent the Roman occupation.
If Jesus says no, then he can be accused of rejecting the sovereignty of Rome and encouraging others to act against Caesar. He will be effectively exposed as a rebel against Rome.
These Pharisees are sure they have come up with the perfect question, that they have outwitted Jesus at last, that they have created the perfect trap. Yes or no? Of course, Jesus sees through their question and IS straightforward, but not in answering their question. Instead, he calls them out by asking, “Why are you testing me?”
He asks that a denarius (the usual daily wage paid to a workman at that time) be brought to him. Then he answers their question with a question (as he often does): “Whose image is this?” It is, of course, the image of Caesar, who was often worshipped as a god. Then Jesus gives the answer that utterly amazes them: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
He has sidestepped the false dichotomy they had proposed. He reframes the issue and recalls the listeners to their primary responsibility. It is a statement and a challenge: We are in the world and must observe our duties in the world, including paying our taxes; but we are made for heaven and must observe our duty to God with even more attention! The coin is made with the image of Caesar, and so it should be given back to Caesar; WE are made in the image of God, and so we should give our whole selves back to God.
Living in the world, we must be constantly reminded that our primary responsibility is to the God of Love, who chose us in Christ before the world began (Eph 1). Before God spoke creation into existence, we were chosen, desired, and willed by God!
Today, let us meditate on the truth that we were born “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of GOD” (Jn 1:13) and we must set our minds “on things that are above (where Christ is), not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:2).
Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including newly ordained Father Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.