Mark 12:13 – 34 NLT
“Taxes for Caesar
13 Later the leaders sent some Pharisees and supporters of Herod to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. 14 “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?”
Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin, and I’ll tell you.” 16 When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
17 “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
His reply completely amazed them.”
This question was asked because there were several groups of people listening to this conversation. Depending on the answer, at least one of the groups would be upset. Steve Wilmhurst in his commentary, A Ransom for Many, explains why this question would cause some to get very angry:
“The danger in the question is that this tax is the Roman poll-tax, levied at a flat rate on everyone who owns property. This tax, which has been in force for around twenty-five years, is paid directly to the Roman authorities and is therefore a concrete symbol of the occupation of their land. Every patriotic Jew loathes having to pay it. Beyond that, their attitudes differ. From what we know of the times, the Pharisees resent it as a humiliation, but they pay up. The Herodians will support it because doing so keeps the peace. The Zealots – the extremists who are working themselves up to rise in revolt against Roman rule – refuse point-blank to pay the tax. Among Jesus’ supporters from Galilee, some of whom are no doubt within earshot at this moment, there are plenty of Zealots. It is a political trap. Jesus has a choice. He can say it is right to pay, and thus alienate many of his supporters by looking like a collaborator. Or he can say, No – an announcement the authorities will be very interested to hear, and his enemies will make sure they hear it very soon. There’s a Roman fortress (the Antonia, on the northern side of the Temple) about a hundred yards away as they speak.”
Jesus reply indicates that people need to obey government regulations, but also realize that God is actually the one in control. This idea is repeated in the New Testament in Romans 13: 1 – 7:
“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. 3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. 4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. 5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.” (NLT)
For those of us who are Christians, and also citizens of a country, we need to follow the laws of our country. That includes taxes. I know we all do our best to reduce the amount of taxes owing to our government. It’s OK to look for legal ways to keep the amount payable. But are we trying to cheat? Hide what we’re doing so we don’t get caught? These verses in Romans bring up another issue in 2020. As our government and health systems try to protect us from spreading the coronavirus, they ask us to do things that we’d rather not do. Social distancing is awkward, and downright difficult when we’re with family or friends. As of June 26, Essex Windsor area has been asked to wear face masks in many public places. I listen to the news, and hear people say they won’t wear face masks. Or I see people crowding parks and beaches. Many of these Covid-19 regulations are annoying and we may think they are really not needed. But reread those verses in Romans. Christ followers are instructed to follow our country’s laws.
“Discussion about Resurrection
18 Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. They posed this question: 19 “Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name. (Deuteronomy 25: 5 – 6) 20 Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. 21 So the second brother married the widow, but he also died without children. Then the third brother married her. 22 This continued with all seven of them, and still there were no children. Last of all, the woman also died. 23 So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.”
24 Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. 25 For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven.
26 “But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—haven’t you ever read about this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said to Moses, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of
Jacob.’ (Exodus 3: 6) 27 So he is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.”
The Most Important Commandment
28 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. 30 And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ (Deuteronomy 6: 4 – 5) 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19: 18) No other commandment is greater than these.”
32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”
34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
Jesus sums up the Ten Commandments in these two statements. The first 4 commandments are about loving God, putting God first. The last 6 commandments are about our relationship with others. You may read the Ten Commandments and be able to list the 10 ‘rules’, but they are actually summed up with the word – love. In our 2020 culture, it’s so easy to get caught up in securing a good job, having a nice home with lovely décor, finding fun places to vacation, being part of various social groups, staying fit and healthy, etc. As we raise our kids, we encourage them to find good friends, do well in school, play sports at school or on local teams, figure out a good career that will keep them financially stable in the future … How much do we think, for ourselves and our children, about seeking God’s direction for our lives and priorities? How much does prayer play a part in our families? How much do we talk about what God wants us to do in any given situation? How much do we think about our relationship with people? Do we talk with our children how we can help someone, or some organization, in our community? Would we encourage our children to take a career in social work, in church ministry, or any career that helps people but pays less?
Jesus instruction to us makes me stop and think about my own priorities. Where do I concentrate my time and resources?
The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”
There is one thing I do know. I can’t read my Bible without a challenge to myself. I suspect today’s verses are making you think as well.
Steve Wilmhurst, A Ransom for Many: the Gospel of Mark Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series, Evangelical Press, 2011 – Chapter 18