Give unto Caesar Caesar’s

Matthew 22:21 Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s
Mark 12:17 Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s
Luke 20:25 Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s

A clear and verbatim instruction to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. There’s even less reason to interpret it differently if we look closely at what happened a little earlier:

When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”
Matthew 17:24-27

Firstly, Christ himself paid the temple tax and not army tax. This means that an immediate end can be put to this issue.

However, secondly, He mentioned his reasoning: lest we offend them. Do not offend them and do not seduce them. Do not entice the collectors to condemn you for not wanting to give them money. Whose money? Roman — Caesar, Jewish — the Jewish King. Caesar/the king established the law: pay your taxes and duties. Well, then give this money to the servants of the king/Caesar and do not tempt them to resort to the law (mainly due to their own weakness) to condemn you or take it by force.

Thirdly, and most importantly, is that which is overlooked most often. To give means to give and not to “take”. Once again, there is instruction from Christ to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But there’s not a single instruction to take what is Caesar’s from Caesar. Not a single instruction to take this money from him and hence involve yourself in the violence that Caesar commits as well as good deeds.

Editor's comment (click to expand)Fourthly, consider that Caesar may be tempted to tell you that he wants everything. Giving to Caesar what is Caesar's implies NOT giving to Caesar what is God's. This point is not an invitation to enter into conflict with Caesar, but simply to remind us what was said above: we participate in violence even if we simply help finance and support it. (See below on living without money.) "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities" (i.e., Caesar), but as we note below, we cannot be abjectly servile to an authority that requires us to do evil.
Finally, a special attentiveness is needed when Caesar is the public, as, for example, in a more or less authentic democracy. When there is no monarch (in name or in function), and we participate in choosing our leaders, we need to discern carefully whether our participation in that still-violent system is giving Caesar what is God's. There are no simple answers, just more invitations to consider how the system wants to entangle us, and how we must study those entanglements.

What about living without money? The Gospel is not short on answers to this question. Finding them is not difficult. The thing to do is:

  1. God’s law on love
  2. God-given gifts

And finally, the last point. Why is there no ambiguity? It’s forbidden to forcibly resist but to submit and pay for force is permissible! In fact, there’s no ambiguity. When Caesar spends his money it is his responsibility and not that of the person who returns it to him. People are responsible when they spend their own money.


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