The Pharisees, in Matthew 22:15-22, sought to trap Jesus by asking “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” (v. 17). Jews who supported Herod collaborated with the Romans. The Zealots refused to pay. Jesus answers, “show me the coin... Whose head is this, and whose title?” (vv. 19-10). The emperor’s inscription implies that it is the emperor’s money. “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s (v. 21).”

There is a story about an IRS agent who made a phone call to the county seat town’s best known pastor: Mr. John Doe put down on his tax return that he made a contribution of $3,000 to your church last year. Is that true?” After a brief pause on the other end of the line, the pastor quietly responded. “If he didn’t, he will.” The familiar adage goes that the two things you cannot escape are death and taxes.

Today, we are going to look at what, to some, is the more frightening of the two—taxes or death. In this text Jesus is confronted with a question concerning the head tax paid to the Roman Government. The Pharisees use fake flattery in an attempt to disarm Jesus so that they can entrap and humiliate Jesus with a tricky yes or no question. Jesus set his own trap for the Pharisees by asking to see the coin used to pay the tax. By doing this, Jesus reminds the Pharisees that they already acknowledge Caesar’s authority by having this money in their possession. They possess a Roman coin bearing the image of the emperor and conveying Roman ideology.

We have a legitimate obligation to the state-—Jesus simply and profoundly declares that Caesar is owed what bears his image and name, money. Jesus is not drawn into a debate between church and state. He acknowledges that being a servant of God does not exempt you from being a tax-paying servant of the state. Jesus emphasizes, however, that the higher duty is to be rendered to God.

We have a greater obligation to God—God, Caesar’s Lord, is to be rendered the things that are God’s. God is owed what bears his image and name, our very lives.

There is a lovely estate in Texas, the beautiful grounds of which are being expertly tended by a caretaker. Every tree is trimmed, the grass is mowed and stately beds of flowers are in bloom. Yet not one soul was around to observe any of the beauty except for the caretakers. A visitor surprised one of the caretakers after stopping to see the striking sight and asked, “When was the owner last here?” “Oh, ten or twelve years ago, I guess,” said the caretaker. “Then from whom do you get your instructions?” “From the agent who lives in Atlanta,” the caretaker replied. “Does he ever come around to inspect the place?” “No, can’t say that he does,” answered the caretaker. “And yet you keep it trim as if he were going to come tomorrow?” And with that the gardener interrupted the curious visitor: “As if he were going to be here today!” You don’t know when the end of time is for you, so be ready, as the caretaker was with his owner’s estate.

God calls us to be good stewards of all with which we have been entrusted. One day the Master will come back to check on things, you can count on it. Will he find you and me ready?

J.B. Morris leads the Rock Hill United Methodist Church.