Skip to main content

Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Tax time interrogation

Jesus doesn’t offer cheap answers to Pharisees—or to us

Tax time interrogation

A denarius bearing the image of Julius Caesar (De Agostini/G. Dagli Orti Universal Images Group/Newscom)

Now that you’ve got your W-2 form in hand but are feeling increasingly guilty that you haven’t got around to your tax return yet (you still have two months to go!), take a fresh look at one of the Bible’s most famous passages about taxes—Matthew 22:15-22.

Except that I’d like to suggest here, as I have from time to time, that when Jesus delivered His short “Render unto Caesar” speech, He had something other than taxes or church-state relations in mind.

Instead of giving the Pharisees a tax table telling them what proportion of their income they could deduct for charitable giving for the calendar year A.D. 29, Jesus was telling them that they had to get their whole worldview straightened out.

In other words, don’t spend time on the details until you get the big picture in focus. Don’t fine-tune until you’re on the right channel.

Don’t pretend to be interested in the fine points of a God-centered worldview if your heart isn’t right.

The two main points Jesus was teaching as He flipped the denarius over in His palm were these:

First: Don’t pretend to be interested in the fine points of a God-centered worldview if your heart isn’t right.

Make no mistake. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees was a put-down. He wasn’t really answering them at all. He knew the phoniness of their hearts, and He wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of an answer so long as they had no intention of listening in the first place.

It’s easy for us to be in the same position. We go through the formalities of studying and discussing what a “Christian” position might be on a particular subject—when deep in our hearts we have no intention of adjusting our lives once we find the answer. We’re just intellectualizing. Like the Pharisees, we’re often much more interested in proving our own point of view than we are in discovering God’s truth on a matter.

When that’s our position, Jesus says He’s not interested in providing a response. He holds His wisdom for those who ask with sincerity.

Second: Jesus doesn’t offer cheap answers. What the Pharisees desperately wanted was a smartphone that would let them figure with certainty how much belonged to Caesar and how much to the Temple. Then they could add those calculations to all their other rules and regulations.

We’re still looking for that app that will crunch all the prophetic references of Daniel and Ezekiel, merge them with the price of oil futures in Iran, help us identify the Antichrist, and predict the exact date of Christ’s Second Coming. We want quick, quantified answers. We’re modern-day Pharisees.

But to us, as to the Pharisees, Jesus simply says: “OK, if that’s the kind of wisdom you want, I’ll give it. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

You can almost hear the humiliated Pharisees as they sneak away. “We don’t know any more than we did before we asked! Now we have a whole slew of new questions. No way do we dare go back and ask Him how much belongs to Caesar and how much to God. How embarrassing!”

That’s the point. If you come with the wrong spirit, or come seeking simplistic answers, God keeps you klutzing around in your ignorance.

When you’re ready to bow before Him and express your willingness to expose yourself patiently to the marvelous complexities of His wisdom, then He answers. That’s when He expands your worldview, sending you away not with frustration but delight.

Comments

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Wed, 02/13/2019 02:06 pm

    Maybe Jesus actually indirectly answered the question.  Jesus left out an implicit truth:  God appoints Caesar; therefore Caesar has authority to require anything that does not contradict God's moral nature.  Therefore if Caesar demands taxes, we should pay them to the best of our ability.