daily biblical sermons

We must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, the 29th Sunday of the Year, October 22, 2023
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6, Psalm 95 (96), 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5, Matthew 22:15-21

Biblical citations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“Then the Pharisees went and took counsel how to entangle him [Jesus] in his talk. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax.’ And they brought him a coin. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away” (Matthew 22:15-22).



In today’s gospel the Pharisees try to catch Jesus in something that he might say so that they could accuse him to the authorities and destroy him or that he would say something that would offend the common people who are his supporters so that they turn against him. So they ask him a trick question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17).



The people were split on this issue. The Herodians, with whom the Pharisees joined hands to try to destroy Jesus on this particular occasion, were supporters of King Herod the Great whom the Romans put in power over Israel, and who was the king of Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth. Now that Jesus has grown up it is also the Romans who keep Herod’s descendants in power.



So if Jesus says that it is not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, the Herodians would immediately accuse him to the Roman authorities and in particular to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate as a rebel who is turning the people against Roman rule.



The Pharisees, on the other hand, were not in favor of Roman rule or of paying taxes to Caesar, but they share one thing in common with the Herodians, namely their hatred of Jesus, and so they joined together to try to destroy Jesus with this question about paying taxes to Caesar.



But, on the other hand, if Jesus says yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, then Jesus would offend his base, the common people who were against Roman rule and wanted Israel to be an independent country as it once was in times past.



Jesus’ base, the common people, also consider Jesus as the Messiah, and it was believed that the Messiah would free Israel from Roman rule. So if Jesus says that it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, the common people would be incensed to see that Jesus is rejecting his messianic calling in bowing to Rome and abandoning his call to free his people from Roman rule.



So if Jesus says no it is not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar he would be accused as a rebel to the Roman authorities, and if he says yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, he would offend and lose his base, the common people who resented Roman rule over Israel.



With this question the Pharisees thought that they had trapped Jesus. No matter which way he answers, he will destroy himself.



But Jesus escapes their trap by asking to see the coin that they use to pay taxes, and they show him a denarius. He then asks them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” (Matthew 22:20). They say Caesar’s. So then Jesus gives his famous answer to their question, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). When the Pharisees and Herodians heard this answer, “they marveled; and they left him and went away” (Matthew 22:22).



They had to leave because Jesus won the argument. He won the test and made them look foolish. His answer did not offend his base and it could not be used against him with the Roman authorities.



If they use Roman money, then they should pay taxes to support the Roman government. The money belongs to Rome and they use it, so let them give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – taxes. But in the same way they are to give to God the things that belong to God. This the Pharisees flagrantly violated, because they were trying to destroy God’s Son Jesus Christ, which shows that they are not giving to God the things that are God’s, namely acceptance of God’s Son that he sent into the world to save us from our sins.



What does this mean for us today? It means that we benefit from the government of our country. The government pays for public roads and makes traffic laws, laws against crime, and enforces these laws with the police so that good citizens can live in peace and not fear that they will be robbed or killed by criminals. Who pays the government for all these services that it provides for us? We pay – we who enjoy all the benefits that the government provides. We pay by paying taxes for these benefits.



This is a practical answer to the question of why we should pay taxes. We should pay them to support the government that gives us all of these services that make civilized life possible and pleasant.



But there are also spiritual reasons for paying taxes, for government officials exercise their authority as agents of God for the sake of civilized life and good order. We should pay taxes and be submissive to the government and its just laws, because they are appointed by God. So if you resist the authorities, you resist God.



St. Paul speaks very clearly about this, saying, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer … For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing” (Romans 13:1-4, 6).



What is your attitude towards the government. There was a time many years ago when I thought that I was misusing my money by paying the Social Security tax. I thought it would be more virtuous to give my excess money directly to the poor to help them. But I was advised by my superiors that this would not be wise. So I followed their advice and paid my Social Security tax. Then after doing this I discovered this teaching of St. Paul, which I just quoted, and that confirmed for me that I had made the right decision.



The government is made up of human beings and they are not always perfect. They do not always make the best decisions on every issue, but that does not justify us in withholding respect and taxes to the government, for we still receive many benefits from the government.



So we are to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. We have dealt with Caesar, but how do we render to God the things that are God’s? We owe God our love, devotion, faith, obedience, and good works.



Faith is the first and most important thing that we owe God, for it brings us the greatest blessing, namely justification. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God and Savior of the world, God regards all our sins as justly punished in his death on the cross, and so he declares us ungodly sinners righteous and reckons to us his own righteousness so that we shine with the righteousness of God himself and can grow in holiness by obeying his biblically revealed moral law and living a life of good works.

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