Render Unto Caesar
We live at a time when respect for the government is at an all-time low. According to a recent poll, approval for the president has been fairly steady at about 41%, but only 18% of the population approves of Congress. Since May of this year, approval for democrats in Congress has fallen from 39% to 20%, approval for Republicans has fallen from 24% to 14%, and for independents from 32% to 21%.
That’s true of the Congress, and I would guess that it’s true for nearly all forms of government. Some of us might agree that government has over-reached and has become tyrannical in its grab for power. If we feel that way, it might be tempting to just ignore the obligations that government imposes on us. “I don’t like what government officials are doing, so I don’t have to obey them.”
We all know that, if government becomes abusive and tyrannical, the citizens have the right to rebel against that government and replace it with something better.
But short of an outright rebellion, are we still obligated to obey government commands? How would Jesus answer that question?
We now come to one of the most famous of all the sayings of Jesus—“Render unto Caesar…” This short, pithy response is packed with meaning and has many practical consequences for our daily lives.
Jesus tells us there that, under normal conditions, we must fulfill our rightful obligations to the government. We must pay taxes and obey legitimate laws. There may be exceptions to this rule, but as much as we are able, we are supposed to obey those whom God has put in authority over us, including government authorities.
This topic is especially relevant to us today because many of us are quite dissatisfied with certain parts of our government. Government regulations and mandates affect us today more than they have in the past. We see examples of government over-reach and abuse. We see how the government is failing to fulfill its obligations. So we might wonder about our relationship to the government.
Let’s look at this exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders of the Jews and see what Jesus says about our obligations to government.