The Pharisees and the Herodians get together to set a trap for Jesus. If he tells the people not to pay their taxes to Caesar, he risks being arrested by the Roman rulers as an insurrectionist. If he tells the Jews that they should pay, he will anger his followers, who hate the Roman occupation. Jesus’ reply doesn’t evade the question, but rather takes it back to the principle that is at stake. Authority should be respected, as long as it acts justly and serves the common good. But the inscription on the coin handed to Jesus would read “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, great high priest” – a blasphemous claim of divine status for the Roman Emperor. Caesar is claiming what belongs to God.
The modern world is complex and confusing. We are sometimes told that we live in a secular society, and that faith and politics don’t mix. But Christians have a responsibility to engage with political life and to put into practice the values of the Gospel. We should hold our leaders to account, seek the common good and uphold the rights of the poor and vulnerable. Some principles are more fundamental than party politics. Every person belongs to God.