The Head On the Coin
( Originally Published 1915 )
THE ENEMIES of Jesus thought that, perhaps, they might lead him to say some words against the Roman rulers over the land. If he would do this, then they could complain to the Roman governor and cause Jesus to be seized and put in prison, or even slain, as an enemy of the Roman state. These priests and Pharisees and rulers themselves hated the Romans, and would gladly throw off the Roman yoke if they dared to do it; but they were willing to pretend friendliness to their Roman masters, if only through them they could destroy Jesus.
With this purpose in mind, while Jesus was in the Temple on that Tuesday morning, they sent to him some men whom Jesus had never met, men who seemed honest and true; for they knew that if they came themselves Jesus would at once see through their plans and be on his guard against them. They did not know that Jesus as the Son of God knew all things, could look into every heart of man and read all their thoughts.
So these men came to Jesus in the Temple and tried at first to speak flattering words to him to win his favor.
"Teacher," they said, "we know that you are honest and speak the truth; that you are not afraid of anybody and do not try to please men, but say only what is right. There is a question that troubles us, for we do not know how to meet it. For that reason we bring it to you, for we know that you will give us a right answer. Tell us now what you think about it. Is it right for our people to pay taxes to the Roman rulers over the land? Shall we pay, or shall we refuse to pay?"
This was indeed a hard question to answer, especially to answer at once, without time for thinking about it. For if Jesus should say, "Do not pay the tax," the Romans would arrest him as an enemy to their rule, and might even put him to death, as they had seized and slain many for this very act of refusing to pay the taxes. At that very time hundreds of men were hiding from the Romans in caves and forests, trying to escape from paying this tax. On the other hand, if Jesus should say, "Pay the tax," all the common people would turn against him; for all the Jews hated this tax, which was a sign of the Roman power over them; and every man among them only paid it because he was afraid of the Roman governor and the Roman soldiers.
But Jesus saw through all their plots and plans, and he had his answer ready.
"You men of false heart, pretending to be honest!" he said, "why do you try to catch me in a snare? Let me see some of the tax money!"
They brought to him a piece of silver, a Roman coin. He looked at it closely and then asked:
"Whose head is this that I find upon the coin? What are the words around the edge?"
"Why, that is the head of the Roman emperor, Tiberius Cesar, and those words are his title."
"Well, then," said Jesus, "give to Caesar what belongs to Cesar; and be sure to give to God what belongs to God."
There was nothing in that answer which they could make to appear either unfriendly or friendly to the Roman rule; nor yet was there anything that could be used against Jesus with the people. Wondering at the answer of Jesus, these men left him.