Matthew 22 features a set of three questions that the religious leaders bring to Jesus in an attempt to trap him and end his ministry. Jesus answers each question brilliantly… which only serves to further frustrate His questioners.
In Matthew 22:15-22, they ask Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay the poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” This seems like a political question… but it certainly has religious undertones.
This reminds me of a role I played in a high-school production of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”. Those familiar with that story know that the main character has several daughters. The story largely focuses on the daughters falling in love and getting married. I played Perchik, a religious and political radical that fell in love with one of the daughters. When it came time for my character to propose marriage I said,
“There’s a question I wish to discuss with you. It’s a political question, the question of marriage.” She responded, “Is this a political question?”
It was a fair question. I went on to explain that the relationship between a man and a woman has a socioeconomic base that must be founded on mutual beliefs, a common attitude, and philosophy towards society.”
What a romantic! The world certainly doesn’t need more poets like this character.
After some back and forth banter (where Hodel suggests “affection” should also be considered) she responds, “I think you are asking me to marry you. I was hoping you were.”
Perchik takes a fundamentally religious question and tries to dress it up in political clothing. In a similar way, the question the Pharisees ask Jesus about the poll tax seems political, but it actually has very strong religious undertones.
If I were to ask you today, “How do you think you will vote in the next election.” That might seem like a political question… but I might be testing you to see how your religious views factor into our particular political climate.
That’s really what the leaders are doing. Many of them had become political collaborators with the Romans. The lines between politics and religion had become unimaginably intermingled.
In His answer, Jesus concludes that people should pay to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s… and to God the things that are God’s. Interestingly, the religious leaders were paying to Caesar what was Caesar’s… but they were also paying to Caesar what was God’s.
It was this distinction that Jesus was pointing out to those who were questioning Him. It’s this distinction that people today need to consider as they try to negotiate the difficult landscape of living in a culture… but not being totally consumed by that same culture.
You might be wondering how the Fiddler on the Roof experience ultimately influenced my life? Well, sometimes reality is just as strange as fiction.
The time eventually arrived for me to propose to my “real-life” girlfriend. Since it worked out so well in the musical… I made two copies of my “proposal scene” replacing the daughter’s name with “Lisa” and put my name in place of Perchik. At just the right time I pulled out the script, handed Lisa her copy, and began to read my first line.
By the time we were done reading the scene… we were engaged!
I know… how romantic.
The questions that the religious leaders pose to Jesus are discussed in more detail in The Matthew Study video lesson for chapter 22. You can watch the video below… or preview the other videos and download chapter lessons from The Matthew Study by visiting: THE MATTHEW STUDY VIDEOS page.