Mark 12:17 “Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were amazed at Him.”
They laid the trap rather nicely. Give Jesus a coin and ask if the people should pay a poll-tax to Caesar. If He says “No” then the Romans will come looking for Him; if He says “Yes” then He’ll fall out of favor with the Jewish people.
Jesus looks at the coin, holds it up, and does what we have struggled to do ever since; He drew a sharp line between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God. Physical currency (coins, gold, or other material items) does not govern the Kingdom of God.
The trap was clever because it focused on something of profound significance to most people: money. Anytime you want to press the emotional buttons of people, get personal about money. Threaten to take it or tell people what they should do with it, and you’ll likely get some heat. Indeed, we can get so wrapped up in “the coin” that we lose sight of the Kingdom.
Money has a bewitching power for most of us. It doesn’t need to be a lot of money; just any money. At times it represents our security, our hope, and our freedom. With it, we feel free and independent. Without it, we stress and worry.
This “coin moment” with Jesus challenges “the coin” in each of our lives. When the coin usurps the Kingdom of God — and the King who is Christ — it has dragged us to a level that is lesser and lower than Christ intended. “Give it to Caesar,” said Jesus. He refused to fret about His livelihood. He would not fight for something physical.
How are we doing with coins and kingdoms in our own lives? Does our generosity reflect our faith? Is our confidence in our currency or in Christ?
In the West, replete with government safety-nets and community resources, the worst poverty we’re likely to experience — those of us with internet access to read this — is not financial poverty but poverty of the heart. “The coin” continues to test us.
The season of Lent centers around self-denial. It tends to highlight how tightly we hold onto some things, and how tightly some things hold onto us. A looser grip, driven by a broader view of the Kingdom and a deeper faith in Christ, might actually produce a freedom for which we yearn.