January 17, 2017 • Life for Leaders
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
As Jesus spent time in the Temple courts in the days before his death, some of the Jewish leaders tried to have him arrested or even killed. In order to get Jesus in trouble, several of these leaders came to him with a trick question about taxation. It was a trick because, no matter how Jesus answered, it seemed as if he would be the loser. If he said that Jews should not pay taxes to Caesar, then this act of sedition could get him arrested by the Roman authorities. If, however, Jesus said that the Jews should pay taxes, then many of those who followed him would reject him because they considered Roman taxation to be abhorrent and contrary to the Jewish law.
Jesus’s response to the taxation question amazed his interrogators. First, he had them produce a Roman coin, one that featured the head of Tiberius Caesar and identified him as the son of the god, Augustus Caesar. Then Jesus said, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (12:17). Jesus seemed to be saying, “Since you have a coin that belongs to Caesar, go ahead and give it back to him.” The Greek verb translated sometimes as “render” literally means “give back” (apodidomi) It suggests that the people should go ahead and pay the required tax.
But then Jesus added something that reframed the whole issue: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (12:17). How intriguing! It’s as if Jesus were saying that the whole taxation issue wasn’t the main point. What people did with Caesar’s money didn’t matter nearly as much with what they did with that which belonged to God.
So, what belongs to God? Jesus didn’t answer this question in Mark 12, though his conception of the kingdom of God and his call upon people’s lives suggested an the answer: everything. But in this age, we don’t control everything, like whether we are required to pay taxes. Yet there is much in our life over which we do have charge. This, all of this, we offer to God in love, worship, and service.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Are you giving to God the things that are God’s in your life? How?
Are there places you are holding back? Why?
What might you give to God today that you didn’t give yesterday?
Gracious God, in faithfulness to you I will continue to pay the taxes I owe, though I must admit I’m not altogether happy about this. More importantly, I am reminded today that I need to give you all that is yours . . . and that is all of me.
So, today, I give you my body and my mind, my hopes and my fears, my work and my play, my relationships and my time alone. I give you my love and my strength. All that I am, Lord, I give you today. Be glorified and honored in everything I do and say, in all of my thoughts and dreams.
All praise be to you, O God, because I belong to you, all that I am. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Taxes and Caesar (Mark 12:13-17)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.