How to Answer Controversial Questions – Matthew 22:1-22

Reflection from my reading in Matthew 22:1-22 in the One Year Bible New Testament.

It’s A Trap

The religious leaders were desperately trying to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. If you ever watch an interview of a pastor on TV then you know it inevitably becomes “stump the pastor” as the host throws out the toughest questions they can ask. In the same way, the religious leaders started with some flattery then asked him their tough question.

“And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Matthew 22:16–17

To Pay or Not To Pay… That is the Question 

The issue of taxes was one of the most controversial issues for the Jews, because they were being forced to pay taxes to a government that was oppressing them. Caesar was a pagan King who did not worship God and promoted many evil practices. In the minds of the Jews, to pay taxes was to contribute to that. It is interesting to note that the religious leaders and the Herodians (supporters of Herod) were teaming up on this question, because the followers of Herod likely supported taxes and the Jews largely did not want to pay taxes. Jesus saw through their trickery.

“But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.” Matthew 22:18–22

Jesus saw through their trickery and answered shrewdly.

  • With a clear “Yes we should pay,” the jews would have been angry and perhaps he would have had a riot on his hands.
  • With a straight up “No,” his enemies could have reported to the Roman government that he was spreading anti-governement propaganda.

A Wise Answer

Jesus answered the question so wisely and that people were amazed! When he said, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”, he was confirming that the Jews should pay the fair taxes that they owe to the government. But by saying “and to God the things that are God’s”, he is saying that God is the priority. That we should give our whole lives, our money and our hearts to God. This frustrated his enemies because they could not pin him down and make him say something that would get him in trouble. I will conclude with the principle that we can take away from how Jesus responded this controversial question.

His answer was clear enough to answer the heart of the issue, and vague enough not to be polarizing. 

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