8 March 2011

Mark 12:13-17

"Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." (v. 17)


Taxes are never popular and taxes imposed by an occupying force are often bitterly resented. Some Roman taxes had led to bloody riots instigated by Jewish zealots who insisted God was their only ruler. So to advocate paying the tax would be seen as a betrayal of Jewish nationalism. The crowd would dismiss any thoughts that Jesus might be the Messiah, the redeemer of Israel. To suggest that the tax should be withheld would open him to charges of inciting insurrection. It's a clever trap thought up by opponents of Jesus, including supporters of Herod Antipas.

The denarius (verse 15) was a small silver coin, and the most common in circulation. It was a typical day's wage for a labourer. By showing the crowd a coin with the image of Caesar, Jesus reminds them that by using Roman money they have tacitly accepted the emperor's authority. He also implies the practical benefits they enjoy under the Roman Empire such as roads, increased trade, aqueducts, and law and order.

Jesus picks up on the slogan that God is their only ruler and tells people to live up to this claim. If God is indeed their ruler, they have obligations they must discharge to God. The currency for this goes far beyond money and material possessions. Their spiritual responsibilities are far more significant than the worldly requirements they are worrying about. They need to get their priorities right.

The apostle Paul is much more explicit in telling Christians to submit to the authorities, to pay taxes and to give the respect and honour due (Romans 13:1-7). Spiritual issues and worldly duties and responsibilities are not always neatly separated, however. Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu and Dietrich Bonhoeffer amongst others discovered this when they fought the injustices of state-imposed racial discrimination and segregation in their own societies. And during the Second World War some conscientious objectors found it impossible to reconcile their religious beliefs with the state's requirement for them to join the armed services. Our commitment to discipleship can present us with dilemmas and difficult choices as we seek to follow God's will.

To Ponder

Have you ever experienced a situation where 'submitting to the authorities' appeared to clash with your duty to God? How did you resolve it?

On what basis would you decide you were justified in resisting a law passed by the government?

What obligations do you owe to God? Think about among other things about your time and your talents.

Bible notes author

Philip Sudworth

Philip has retired from a career in the education service. He is now kept busy by voluntary work with local children's charities.