Rev Michael Barnes 7/4/19
Tax – What did it mean in 1st century Israel?
In considering what tax meant in 1st century Israel, put aside all thoughts about the way tax works today.
Today, tax is levied by a democratic government, elected by the people, and it is used for the well-being of the nation.
Not so in 1st century Israel. Tax was levied by an occupying power, Rome, for the benefit of Rome. What little trickled back to Israel was to maintain Roman soldiers, whose presence was a perpetual reminder of Israel’s humiliation.
There was no budget for health, infrastructure, education… (despite what is claimed in the movie, The Life of Brian!)
Tax was concerned with maintaining an imperial occupation.
When Jesus uncovered that his inquisitors carried Roman coins and said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar‘s and to God what is God’s’ he was implicating them in the Roman occupation. The religious leaders were party to a troubling compromise with the Romans, which they backed it up with theological argument. However, in their bones, they likely knew their rationale was problematic. The Torah stated that they owed everything to God, and by implication, they owed nothing to Caesar.
Jesus was probing their deepest allegiances, pushing beyond political pragmatism and expediency. He had turned the tables on them.