The opponents of Jesus joined together to trap Jesus and asked him whether it is lawful or not to pay taxes. A capitation tax, a Denarius, which was equivalent to a day’s wage, was imposed on the people by the Romans. The Pharisees looked for an answer from Jesus on the issue of tax. They thought that if Jesus responds by saying that the tax is lawful and should be paid it would certainly upset the Jews. But if he responded saying it is not lawful and should not be paid, then he will be advocating to break the law and would upset the Romans. Whatever may be his answer, they were certain of their victory.
Jesus realizing their trap did not give a direct answer to their question instead he asks them to show a Denarius. He asks them to explain whose image the coin had and what the inscription on it was. The head was that of Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor of the day. If they were to pay taxes that would amount to the emperor worship which was demanded by Caesar and would result in idolatry. To their surprise Jesus told them to repay what belongs to Caesar and thus he forbids disobedience of the civil law and at the same time he takes them further to show that everything belongs to God. Jesus said, “Render therefore to God things that are God’s.” Everything belongs to God by the very nature of creation. From that perspective nothing really belongs to Caesar because, Caesar is not God. But if they are using the facility provided by him, they have the duty to respond to it. They in fact used the coins minted by him and needed it for transaction.
What exactly belongs to God?
All of us know the answer immediately, all that we are, and all that we possess, and all that we can hope for comes from God. Just as the Roman coin bore the image of the Emperor who made it, so the human soul bears the “image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1:26), our Creator and our Father. He called each one of us into existence; He wants each of us to exist, so that we can enter into and develop a personal relationship with Him. God doesn’t need our money or wealth. It’s easy for us to have the misconception that God must have our resources to fulfill God’s plan. Nothing could be farther from the truth. When we give our gifts to God, it is not because God needs anything we give but only it helps us to express our gratitude to Him. We give to God from what He has given to us by sharing with others, giving to the needy and doing good that benefit us all. As the state demands loyalty from us, our heavenly citizenship also demands loyalty from us.
“Christian doctrine clearly proposes to us the truths God wills us to believe, the good He wills us to hope for, the punishment He wills us to fear, the things He wills us to love, the commandments He wills us to fulfill, and the counsels He desires us to follow. All this is called the signified will of God, because He has signified and made manifest His will and intention that all these things should be believed, hoped for, feared, loved, and practiced.” St. Francis De Sales