Coins play a varied role in the scriptures. We can think of the woman who lost a coin and then found it and had a celebration with her friends. There is the widow who put one small coin into the offering, which was more than anyone else with large sums. There are those who received talents and earned talents with them. The one who buried his talent in the ground and was reprimanded. When asked if Jesus pays the temple tax, He sends Peter to catch a fish in which he finds the coin he needs to pay the tax. Judas keeps the purse with the coins, he betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Coins represented a value decided upon by the local government – in those times they were typically made of some kind of metal and therefore had some kind of intrinsic value. Today, sometimes, the intrinsic value of our coins is greater than the value they represent. It costs more than a cent to mint a penny, and the metal it is made of is also worth more than a cent.1
The discussion between the Pharisees and Jesus in today’s Gospel centers around the question of obedience and value. The Pharisees want Jesus to either say that it is unlawful to pay the census tax – thereby making Him a revolutionary and an enemy of the state – or to say that it is lawful and to affirm the authority of Caesar as rightful ruler. Jesus refuses to adhere to either one of those positions. As the image that appears on the coin is Caesar’s, he has already established authority over the value of the denarius. If he alone has established that it is worth something and demands that it be given back to him, by all means give it back to him. Caesar has in no way, in requiring the census tax, established the value of the human soul – as though the value of human lives could be established in monetary terms! It is God alone who has established our true value, and it is His face that is imprinted in our soul. Jesus invites us to consider our own soul: “Whose image and inscription do you find there?” God is not impressed with us making a revolutionary stand about how it is wrong to pay taxes to an unrighteous government: after all, that government is the only guarantor of the money’s value anyway. Rather, God IS impressed in our soul, He gives our soul value, and requires it back from us. If the consequences of not paying taxes are serious, how much more serious then not to repay God with the life He gave us?
It is not just we, says Peter, but the whole creation around us also, which will be changed for the better. For the creation will share in our glory just as it has been subjected to destruction and corruption because of us. Either way it shares our fate.2
Peter is talking here about those holy vigils which Jesus referred to when he said: “Blessed are those servants whom the Master finds awake when he comes.” The person who keeps himself pure from all evil may be said to be watching, as may the one who does his utmost to live in peace with everyone.3
Peter, in his second epistle, urged us to holiness in living and character, declaring that this world would pass. New heavens and a new earth are expected which will be given to the just to inhabit.… Some people had used certain obscure passages from Paul’s writings in order to excuse their lack of concern to live well, on the ground that they were secure in their salvation. Peter was saying that some of the things which Paul said are hard to understand and that these people were twisting them to their own ruin.4
If the patience and kindness of God calls us to repentance, this is because repentance is the way of salvation for us. God’s patience always works toward our benefit and salvation.5
So we worship God only, but in temporal matters we gladly serve you, recognizing you as emperors and rulers, and praying that along with your imperial power you may also be found to have a sound mind. Suppose you pay no attention to our prayers and our frank statements about everything. That will not injure us, since we believe, and are convinced without doubt, that everyone will finally experience the restraint of divine judgment in relation to their voluntary actions. Each will be required to give account for the responsibilities which he has been given by God.6
The image of the Emperor appears differently in his son and in a piece of coin. The coin has no knowledge of its bearing the image of the prince. But you are the coin of God, and so far highly superior, as possessing mind and even life, so as to know the One whose image you bear.7
You give to Caesar only money. But to God, give yourself.8
We, looking up to heaven with outstretched hands, because we are harmless, with naked heads, because we are not ashamed, without a prompter, because we pray from the heart, constantly pray for all emperors, that they may have a long life, a secure empire, a safe center of governance, adequate defense, a faithful senate, a well-instructed people, a quiet state—whatever Caesar would wish for himself in his public and private capacity.9
We are God’s money. But we are like coins that have wandered away from the treasury. What was once stamped upon us11 has been worn down by our wandering. The One who restamps his image upon us is the One who first formed us.10
[…] let anyone who possesses the things of Caesar render freely them to Caesar, so that he may be able then to render freely to God the things of God.… Just as our Lord paid our debt, not having initiated it, nor expended it, nor acquired it, nor at any time made it his own possession.11
Caesar seeks his image; render it. God seeks his image; render it. Do not withhold from Caesar his coin. Do not keep from God his coin. To this they could not think of anything to answer. For they had been sent to slander him. And they went back saying: No one could answer him. Why? Because he had shattered their teeth in their mouth.12
- CATENA. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 160). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON 2 PETER. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 160). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON FAITH AND WORKS 14.22. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 160). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON 2 PETER. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 161). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- FIRST APOLOGY 17. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 159). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMONS ON NEW TESTAMENT LESSONS 43. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 159). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON IDOLATRY 15. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 159). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- APOLOGY 30. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (pp. 159–160). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TRACTATE ON JOHN 40.9. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 160). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 13.10. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 160). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON THE PSALMS 58.8. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 160). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.