As we get closer to Election Day, it becomes more and more clear that parsing words and giving answers that really are not answers are an art form. How many times do we hear a politician get asked a question, only to say after an answer is given that they really did not answer the question at all. In fact, there are those who are paid a lot of money to create these “spin” answers.
When I had one of my media classes, I learned that the art of answering a question on television is to believe the question itself was irrelevant. Simply give the answer that you want to give. It does not take long before this can be learned and used, I am a little ashamed to say.
While Jesus’ answer to the question about the relationship between religious practice and civil law (“Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?“) he gives a wonderful answer, since it preserves his religious priorities without placing himself in a difficult position with civil authorities where he could be accused of treason. How does he do this?
It is all in the proper understanding of his answer. “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Why is this answer so clever? Because it understands rightly the appropriate relationship between Church and state. How would the people who were religious have understood Jesus answer?
First, it is important to remember that in a very real way, everything belongs to God. So in the answer that Jesus gives, what belongs to God is literally everything, and so God is worthy of our true allegiance. At the same time, Jesus acknowledges the role of the state. He is not worshipping Caesar (as the emporer) but is recognizing the appropriate role civil leaders have in government.