The religious leaders sent spies to keep a close watch on Jesus. The spies pretended to be honest. They hoped they could trap Jesus with something he would say. Then they could hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.
So the spies questioned Jesus. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you speak and teach what is right. We know you don’t favor one person over another. You teach the way of God truthfully. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Jesus saw they were trying to trick him. So he said to them, “Show me a silver coin. Whose picture and words are on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. And give to God what belongs to God.”
They were not able to trap him with what he had said there in front of all the people. Amazed by his answer, they became silent. – Luke 20:20-26
Sitting in tension is difficult. That’s why, no matter what we believe spiritually, we tend to think of them in black & white terms. I struggle with this all the time. I want to know exactly what side of an issue I stand on.
The religious leaders try to trap Jesus with a seemingly simple yes or no answer. Is it right for us (the Jewish people under a pagan government) to pay taxes? We like yes or no answers. They help us see things in black and white. The church vs. state debate is not anything new. Jesus rode into Jerusalem claiming to be a Messiah. If that’s true, he’s starting a revolution. And we know that any good revolution begins with refusing to pay taxes! (Then dumping tea in a harbor.) All they needed was for Jesus to say something that sounded like he was pushing his followers to revolt against Rome. Then they could have him arrested.
Jesus refuses to be boxed in. Yes, we are to pay our taxes. And also, we are to give our whole lives to God. Those two things are not at odds with each other.