Luke 20:20-26 Steve Heyduck
20 The legal experts and chief priests were watching Jesus closely and sent spies who pretended to be sincere. They wanted to trap him in his words so they could hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. 21 They asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are correct in what you say and teach. You don’t show favoritism but teach God’s way as it really is. 22 Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” 23 Since Jesus recognized their deception, he said to them, 24 “Show me a coin. Whose image and inscription does it have on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. 25 He said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” 26 They couldn’t trap him in his words in front of the people. Astonished by his answer, they were speechless.
This is one of the most difficult passages in all of scripture for us to understand well today! After all, when was the last time the world had an actual “Caesar”?
Though the word “idolatry” doesn’t appear here, this story is about idolatry. We tend to think of idols as objects, such as a golden calf, that people worship in the place of God. The Bible, and especially this story, wants us to recognize that idols can also be ideas or even people or institutions. Idols are whatever might be worshipped in the place of God.
Most Americans probably find it hard to relate to the way the world worked in Jesus’ day. Caesar was the emperor and could, on a whim, send armies into any part of the empire. Caesar could demand taxes be paid, or could double or triple the taxes that were required. In other words, Caesar made demands on people, and the people had to obey or risk imprisonment, or worse.
Prayer: For all who confuse Caesar for God