And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians to entrap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “ Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them or should we not? But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, Why put me to the test? Bring me a coin, and let me look at it. And they brought him one and he said to them, whose likeness and inscription is this? They said to him, “Caesars”. Jesus said to them, ”Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are Gods.” (Mark 12:13-17)
Supposedly (or at least I thought for years) this scripture is primarily an illustration of how clever Jesus was in avoiding being tricked into saying something that would get him in trouble with either the Roman authorities or the Jewish crowds who hated them. If he said no, he would be in trouble with the Romans. If he said yes, then he would be in trouble with the crowds. So he said (at least I always thought), something so enigmatic no one knew exactly what he meant and could only walk away scratching their heads in wonder. Quite a politician!
But that is not at all what this is about. Yes they came to entrap him, but there is nothing enigmatic about his reponse. Rather he uses their question to challenge them with one of the most soul searching ideas of all time. Whose image is on the coin? Caesars? Then give it to him, it is his. Where is Gods image found? They knew the answer immediately: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) Then give him what is his! Give him yourself. Caesar may command our taxes, but we bear the image of God and it is him we are to serve above all.
Only a few verses later, when Jesus is asked by another scribe, this one sincere, Which commandment is the first of all, his reply is clear and unambiguous, “The first is, hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, with ALL your soul, with ALL your mind, and with ALL your strength” (vv29-31). Different question, same answer.
The answer is always the same when the question has anything to do with to whom we belong and whom we are to serve. It is always God. He made us; we are his. My question today, though, is a little different. It is , For me,is the answer to these questions merely academic, like getting the right answer on a Sunday school Bible quiz? Or is it the way I am really living my life? Knowing the right answer is nothing, living the right answer is everything. We know whose image we bear. Will we give him what is his: So whether you eat or drink, whatever you do,do all to the Glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)