Our world is shrinking, and at the same time the pace of life is speeding. Ours is a cultural chaos of competing interests and complex moral questions, and unfortunately there are some who take great delight in pointing out the hypocrisies, double-speak, and unsolvable dilemmas all around us. They have no solutions or new ideas…they simply want to ensnare others by tripping them up in a web of conflicts.
It was that way in the time of Jesus, too. Some Pharisees, along with some Herodians (who never got along with Pharisees, by the way) came to Jesus for one purpose: to trap him with a question for which there is no real answer: “Is it against God’s law to pay tribute to Caesar?” If Jesus says “yes”, the Pharisees will accuse him of blasphemy (Roman coins were inscribed with words that called Caesar divine). But if Jesus says “no”, the Herodians will call him a hypocrite (“you welcome sinners and tax collectors but cannot accept all the benefits that Rome has brought to us?!”).
It’s a trap. A question that neither party really cares about, except that it will force Jesus into a complicated answer. But Jesus stays with simple rather than complex: If it comes from Caesar, give to Caesar; If it comes from God, give to God. Jesus doesn’t, however, tell us how to determine which comes from where…that task belongs to you and me.