Jesus and a flip of Caesar’s coin


“Justin Martyr used all that was around him to build up that vineyard that is Christ’s Church. His arguments were based on discernment, and scholarship, and reason, and prayer. Justin Martyr diligently sought the wisdom of Christ. He listened to and for the word of God.”

Today I start with a quote from myself, it comes from what I wrote about Justin Martyr yesterday. Justin resided between two worlds, the powerful pagans of the Roman Empire and the emerging Christians of the second century. With a flip of a coin he could have joined the ranks of the Romans and lived a reasonable earthly existence. Another flip would have him side with the Christians. They preached salvation, but were despised by the empire. Justin though did not flip a coin in reaching his decision. He sought the truth, he sided with the Christians and tried to persuade the Emperor to end their persecution.

Today in the gospel reading Mk 12:13-17Jesus is presented with the coin. He is asked to discern truth by deceitful men. The question is a tricky one; should those devout Jews be required to pay the temple tax? The catch is that the coin has an image of Caesar on it. Caesar was more than an emperor, he was declared god by the Romans. To pay the temple tax, would be to bow before a false god. Not to pay the tax would be disobedient to the Empire, and that would lead to slavery, imprisonment, torture, or death. The two-sided coin is a double-edged sword, a difficult question indeed!

The Pharisees and Herodians had presented Jesus with a trick question, all while asking for an honest answer. Jesus did give them an honest answer, though not the one those tricksters expected. He understood the dilemma to their puzzle, but tossed another coin into the argument. Rather than flipping a coin to decide who to pledge loyalty to, he brought forward a few other dichotomies. Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is Gods.

“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.”
They were utterly amazed at him.

That coin contained human and divine, material and spiritual. In his argument he acknowledges the needs of the empire even though those taxes are a burden on society they did build roads and helped to pay for the stonework that was the temple. Societies have needs, and the truth is that governments such as Caesars occupy a legitimate place in society. They might be crooked and corrupt, or they might be honest and productive. The truth though is that they provide a needed service. Caesar in fact played a valuable role, though he gave himself too much value; Caesar would not concede to God. He, like so many leaders propagated the falsehood that they were gods. It was self-promotion to the extreme. Jesus though saw the other side of the coin, he saw His Father. He saw the God of all creation, and knew of man’s indebtedness to that true God, and those indebted to that true God included those Pharisees, Herodians, and even Caesar himself. Jesus knew that the delusions of Caesar could not cancel his debt. Jesus knew the truth despite the fallacies that were presented to him, be they the two sides of a trick question, or a false versus true God.

Within the two sides of that coin are also the two sides of every individual, there it that spiritual, our soul, our need for God, and there are those material needs that every body requires for survival. In Jesus flip of that coin, and throughout his ministry, he realizes that his disciples have two sides. They have those very real earthly requirements of the basic necessities of life; food, water shelter, and along with them the real challenges of life. People also have that spiritual obligation, their obligation to God, and for a life to be truthful both obligations must be met. Jesus cross fulfilled the debt to both, mans relationship to God and his relationship to mankind. His coin had another inscription:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself

There then is  an  inscription for both sides of the coin that everyone can live with.

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