15 March 2016

Mark 12:13-17

“Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him.” (v. 17)

Psalm: Psalm 57


In this passage, Jesus' interrogation at the hands of the religious leaders continues (see yesterday's Word in Time). Here, a delegation is sent by the Jewish leaders to 'trap' Jesus - to flatter him and then trick him into advising his followers not to pay the poll tax, proving him to be a rebel against Rome and providing the leaders with a concrete charge to bring against him. But, yet again, Jesus' answer surprises and astounds.

Jesus asks to see a denarius, a small silver Roman coin which bore the image of the emperor on one side and his mother on the other. The inscription read "Tiberias Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Venerable Supreme High Priest". The Bible, on a number of occasions, paints Jesus as "our great high priest" (see Hebrews chapters 4-9) and it could easily be assumed that Jesus would forcefully reject the emperor's claim. But instead he instructs those awaiting his answer with baited breath to "Give the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's".

This instruction has been interpreted in many ways. However, it is no great leap to move from the idea that the coins that bear the image of the emperor belong to the emperor to the notion that those things that bear the image of God belong to God. There has been significant debate over the exact meaning of Genesis 1:26-27 and the stunning words "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them". Often, humanity chooses to focus on our differences, and so finds it hard to understand how people of all genders, ethnicities and personalities can bear the image of God. But it seems that there is some indelible stamp upon each person, more lasting and powerful than the things of the world, which marks us out as "the things that are God's".

To Ponder

  • What do you understand to be the meaning of 'made in the image of God'?
  • How should we respond to government policies that seem, to us, to contradict our deeply-held morals and beliefs?

Bible notes author

Naomi Oates

Naomi Oates has worked for the Connexional Team in a variety of guises since 2012, currently as the Executive Officer to the Secretary of the Conference. She is also training part-time for presbyteral ministry.