19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. 21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin
As Jesus faces imminent death, He fields a ridiculous question about taxes. The scribes and chief priest seek to damage Jesus’ reputation and if possible find an excuse for charges. No matter how He answers their question they believe they’ve finally got Him. Either the people will walk away in disgust or He will be arrested. This passage indicates that the scribes and chief priests are now actively fulfilling the plan of God by seeking Jesus’ death. Jesus allows this public conversation because it serves as a warning and instruction for His disciples not to fall into the same sin.
This is one of the stories where you simply have to marvel at the brilliance of Jesus and His ability to verbally set us straight no matter how wrong our thinking. Clearly the questioners believe they have a fool proof question that will damage Jesus and bring about the results they now desperately desire. And yet Jesus is not stymied by their question. He in fact uses it as yet another object lesson. “… they became silent” is the perfect ending to the conversation. What could they possibly have said that wouldn’t make them look even more foolish?
This story is fairly straight forward but I have always wondered about the tone the conversation. Clearly, the chief priests were probably smug and self-assured as they put forth this question. But I wonder about Jesus tone. Was He combative or gentle? Was He derisive or smug? I think He was simply quiet. All He had to do was point out the obvious. He didn’t hate these men or wish them ill. In fact, He still loved them and wanted them to know Him as their Savior. Just a few days (perhaps hours) earlier, He had been weeping over this type of blatant unbelief! Jesus’ heart breaks as these guys display their hatred for all to see.
I guess that’s where we can take a clue from Jesus. There are no times when combative attitudes will win the hearts and souls of those with whom we seek to share God’s love. A gentle answer, even if it is one that thwarts an evil will, is always a better bet than angry words that seek to damage another; even if you don’t agree with them. With that said, I have to admit, I would have like to have seen the look on the faces of these temple leaders when they realized that silence was their only possible response.