Jesus and Pharisees

Jesus and Pharisees

Jesus, in a familiar scene, is confronted by the Pharisees:

“Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving him they went away. (Matt. 22:11–13 NAB)

Most people understand Jesus as instructing His audience that the church and government have jurisdiction over different spheres. Although I believe this is a correct reading, we often miss its subtle political implications. Jesus first asks whose image is on the coin, and the answer is “Caesar.” There is an unsaid question, however: Who has the image of God on it?  So, if the coin represents the authority of Caesar because it has his image on it, then we, human beings, are under the authority of God because we have His image on us. Good governments, nevertheless, ought to be concerned with the well-being of their citizens. Thus, both government and the church, though having separate jurisdictions, share a common obligation to advance the good of those made in God’s image.

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