Jesus lived in the time when Pharisees did not see the Herodians eye to eye. The former was against the Roman colonizers. The latter, being political supporters of the Herodian clan and are cooperative of the Roman Empire, were very much in support of it. They belong to different political persuasions, but because they needed to topple Jesus, they found in each other strange bed partners.
See this. Even in circumstances that endanger His life, Jesus manages to unite people. And this is what the context of the Gospel reading (Matthew 22:15–21) this Sunday.
Sending some representatives to Jesus, they asked Him “What is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
Saying yes in agreement to pay the census to Caesar would merit the ire of the people who were against paying taxes. The Jewish nation was theocratic. For them, God was the only king. To pay tax to an earthly king was to submit to a kingship other than the Lord’s.
On the other hand, choosing the opposite will send some provocative signals to the authorities. He runs the risk of courting danger since his statement may be judged as seditious, something which invites people to revolt.
At this point, He demands that a coin which is used for the census tax be shown to Him. They handed him a Roman coin. He said to them, Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
The unlikely allies didn’t just want to challenge the arguments of Jesus, this time around, they wanted to topple His personhood. And in order to do it, they would have to begin from somewhere. They saw a window of opportunity in blotting out His reputation as it necessarily tears His credibility.
And such a perfect opportunity it is to execute their plans in the presence of the people!
However, since that which Jesus brings is of God’s, He is beyond these. What He brings is the Good News, and His message centers on liberating man that transcends superficial mental distinctions. Going beyond politics, He does not subscribe to any ideology. What He holds sacred is that which deals with God. Everything else is found in the peripheries.
Noting that the image inscribed on the coin is of Caesar’s, it is then logical to grant him that piece of coin. But let us not rub it in any further. By this statement, Jesus also wanted to emphasize what was implicitly stated. What is to be given to Caesar is the coin. What about God’s portion?
To answer this, let’s ask another question, taking a cue from Jesus’ rejoinder: Who is it again who bears the image and likeness of God?
Your guess is as good as mine.