Re: Taxes, church and the Head of State
Interesting reading Mr. Editor.
The question was indeed a trap, but only because the questioners were confident Jesus would condemn Caesar’s tribute tax, which would give them cause to hand him over to Pilate as a tax resister and certain death.
This is made explicit in Luke’s gospel: “They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.” (Luke 20) The governor was Ponitus Pilate. He was responsible for collecting Rome’s heavy burden of taxes in Judea.
Taxes were the lifeblood of the Empire–as well as its Achilles heel. Pilate would brooked no public opposition to Caesar’s taxes lest he lose his lofty imperial office, and perhaps even lose his head.
Jesus’ religious enemies knew him very well from past encounters and from their network of informants who had been reporting on Jesus’ activities from early in his public ministry. Thus they knew Jesus would not deny his outspoken opposition to the Empire and its taxes. His questioners commenced their effort to entrap him with flattering words, but they were one-hundred percent accurate in what they said of him. “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” (Mark 12) It was as obvious to those men, as it should be to you and me, that Jesus would not decline to tell one and all, “you should pay your taxes”–if that was what he believed regardless of who he might offend. Jesus never deviated from the truth whether speaking to power or weakness.
On the other hand, if Jesus believed, as I am confident he did from all that he said and did regarding taxes and tax collectors in the course of his ministry, that Caesar’s tribute tax and all of Rome’s taxes violated his Father’s Commandment against stealing. Taxation is indistinguishable from the crime of extortion, a type of theft. It is for this reason a French philosopher, Frederic Bastiat, rightly dubbed it “legal plunder.”
Jesus couldn’t say, “no don’t pay that thieving Caesar anything,” without being made the fool by his deceitful enemies. Jesus knew and had so told his disciples he was going to die at the hands of Pilate, but he was not about to let those arrogant pretenders to Moses’ seat bring about his death by means of a venal trick. So he told them to give back to Caesar (ONLY) what belongs to Caesar. Of course nothing, literally nothing, in the possession of anyone in Palestine belonged to Caesar. Caesar was a taker–not a giver nor a lender. Jesus meant precisely what he said, and what he said meant precisely, “GIVE CAESAR NOTHING!” The fact that nothing anywhere belongs to Caesar is declared at least six times in Sacred Jewish Scripture, as in Psalm 24 verse 1: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it…” which leaves nothing for poor old Caesar.
Those spies were flummoxed by Jesus brilliant response to their question. However, when they returned to their handlers and told them what had transpired, the chief priests were not fooled. So they sent their henchmen to take Jesus by force and bring him before the Sanhedrin at night in violation of Jewish law–as Jesus would have it. When they dragged him before Pilate the next day, the Gospel of Luke tells us they reported to Pilate the gist of what he had told their spies: “[T]hey began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar.’” (Luke 23)
It is logical and most likely that for that reason Pilate crucified Jesus.
Disciple of Jesus