You can imagine the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians slinking into the Temple area to try and “trap” Jesus.[1] They disliked his popularity. They disliked his virtuous behaviour. They disliked him, full stop. In fact, they disliked each other but clubbed together to have a more successful attempt at tricking Jesus.

They decided to use a coin, a denarius. Interesting this because “the fact that they had carried that coin with them into the temple precincts tells us that they thereby discredited themselves, no good Jew would be caught with such a coin on the temple’s grounds, the holiest site in all of Judaism.[2] The coin bore the image of Tiberius Caesar, no friend of the Jews, but more importantly on the reverse side it called him “pontifex maximus”, supreme priest. For the Jews this was blasphemous idolatry.[3]

Be that as it may, the trappers hatched their plot and found Jesus, questioning him “Master, we know that you are an honest man and teach the way of God in an honest way, and that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you. Tell us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?[4]

Jesus “aware of their malice[5] was indeed not afraid.You hypocrites”,[6] He retorted, … “let me see the money you pay the tax with?[7] On producing the coin, Jesus adds “Whose head is this? Whose name?

They probably wondered what was going to come next…but said “Caesar’s.”[8] Jesus now had them in the palm of his hand.Very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.[9]

I expect there was a stunned silence. For they knew that through their hypocrisy they did not put God in the first place but even blocked out others from entering the Kingdom through their misleading interpretation of God’s law.

Jesus asks us to recognize that he is the ultimate authority but that we are to obey the civil authorities. At the same time the Church teaches us that “the citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities…finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community.[10]

We are called to “give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.[11]

Or, to put it another way, put God first and then you will judge the things of heaven and the things of earth in the light of your Creator.  Remember that we bear the image and likeness of God.

Sr. Rosaleen Shaw OP


[1] Mt. 22:15


[3] Ibid.

[4] Mt. 22:16-17

[5] Mt. 22:18

[6] Mt. 22:19

[7] Mt. 22:19-20

[8] Mt. 22:20

[9] Mt. 22: 21

[10] Catechism of the Catholic Church #2242

[11] Mt. 22:21

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