15Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away…
34When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22: 15-22, 34-40)
After Jesus’ authority is questioned, the religious elite conspire to terminate his popularity, public ministry, and the revolution it was inciting. These religious elite knew that it would require Jesus’ death.
Thus, the Pharisees and Sadducees (religious elite) sought to entrap Jesus in his teaching, in order that he might be arrested, condemned, and crucified per the Roman Empire.
The Sadducees inquire about the scriptural legality of paying taxes to the Roman Empire. Although the discontentment of paying taxes transcends culture, place, and time, the question is rooted in the issue of idols for the coin used featured the image of the Emperor with the inscription ‘Tiberius Caesar, Augustus, son of the divine Augustus”. Therefore, if Jesus stated that taxes were scripturally legal, the religious elite could declare it as blasphemy. If Jesus stated that taxes were not to be paid, the religious elite could offer him to civil authorities for persecution.
Jesus responds that one should give to Caesar what is his own, essentially the Roman money in taxes, AND give to God what belongs to God. Further, Jesus’ question forces the Sadducees to admit to having Roman currency in their pocket, which was a form of shaming these religious elites.
Then the Pharisees and Sadducees, including one who specialized in the scriptural law, conspired again to entrap Jesus. The question was posed, which commandment is the most important. It was a further attempt to ‘stump the teacher’ regarding general morality. Jesus, however, proves himself to be a knowledgeable and honorable teacher, responding that the greatest commandment is to love God and neighbor.
We can learn from Jesus’ teachings in these moments…
Our faith, scriptures, and traditions, should inform our lives but there are aspects of our earthly lives that should remain as earthly matter earthly, for example the civil matter of paying taxes.
The entire Torah (teaching, law) is easily summarized in one word: LOVE.
God is LOVE.
May we not be distracted by earthly matters that should remain such
and may we LOVE as the Torah teaches.