Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?
This is the question put by the Pharisees to Jesus, perhaps as an attempt to entrap him and to have him say something which was likely to create friction and division. At a time of occupation, and in the midst of huge political instability and uncertainty, such a move would have been a bold one and would have located the teaching of Jesus with those who stood against the Roman occupation.
How Jesus responds to this is a clear lesson to us all. For he points attention away from the particular question of whether taxes ought to be paid at a local context and instead asks that humanity gives to God what is his in addition, not instead of what is asked in the way of tax. Love, grace, commitment and all the other characteristics of a life in discipleship are what is asked by God, not simply the payment of taxes.
Sometimes when we are locked into local disputes we can also fail to see the bigger picture. In so doing we run the risk of blocking God out of our thinking. We are not being invited to stop engaging in local issues of seeking to resolve disagreement, but rather to engage in the sense that we can both engage with the local and the particular whilst also taking account the bigger picture.
We can fail to see the bigger picture because the local, national, or even sometimes international tensions can get in the way and dominate our thinking. This story in St Matthew's gospel invites us to pause, think again, and place everything into a much better perspective.
The Revd Canon Christoper Burke
Vice Dean and Canon Precentor