The Pharisees went offand plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.This weeks gospel is a trap for Jesus. The Pharisees are get together with the Herodians. That is quite something. The Herodians were considered traitors by the Pharisees. Suddenly they are working together? It is often that way. People can be united in their love for Jesus and they can be united in their hatred for Jesus. Differences that would otherwise be huge can be laid aside.
They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying,"Teacher, we know that you are a truthful manand that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion,for you do not regard a person's status.Tell us, then, what is your opinion:Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?"
Knowing their malice, Jesus said,"Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?
Show me the coin that pays the census tax."
Then they handed him the Roman coin.
He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?"
They replied, "Caesar's."At that he said to them,"Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesarand to God what belongs to God."
So what is the trap? Paying taxes to a foreign ruler was something they they thought was wrong. Yet they did it because they knew the Romans would kill them if they didn't. They could not imagine Jesus admitting He was disobeying a religious law simply to save his neck. Yet at the same time they knew Jesus' neck would be on the line. That is why the Herodians were there. If He even hinted that Jews should not pay taxes Herod would know very quickly and that would not end well for Jesus.
It is interesting that Jesus used the word "image" to suggest it is OK to pay money to Caesar. It connects with Gen 1:26,27 where the bible says we are created in the image of God. So we give money to Caesar but by implication we are to give ourselves to God. It is a problem when God's chosen people are beholden to a foreign ruler but the problem is not that they have to pay a tax. It goes much deeper.
This passage is often used as a springboard to talk about church/state relations. The church has always held that political leadership should be a separate thing from spiritual leadership. Even during the lay investiture controversies where secular rulers were often also bishops there was at least the notion that a representative should give that person the symbols of his ecclesiastical office. That the king should not do that.
The truth is that whenever the church and the state have become to closely aligned then it is the church that suffers. The church should try to influence the state but only the same way she influences everything else. That is by teaching the faith effectively. If people know their faith then they should go out and live their faith in their political life and in every other area of life.
There is also the problem of laymen just assuming God is on their side in a political fight and using that belief to justify all sorts of unChristian tactics. Yes, bring Christian truth to the political arena but also bring Christian charity. Charity without truth becomes sentimentalism. Truth without charity becomes fanaticism. We need to bring to really transform politics. You rarely see it.
Now there are some who argue that any religious idea should be left out of political debate. That is quite incoherent but still you hear it all the time. If something is good public policy then how do you know if it is good for religious reasons or it is just inherently good? What is often behind this is another definition of goodness. A secular definition that they think is more right because it is less religious. Of course it is neither more right nor less religious.
For example, some might label the good of having equality in marriage a secular good and the good of having marriage be for a man and a women a religious good. Then they would argue that separation of church and state means we need to let equality trump gender.
Yet where does the notion of equality come from? Some countries have the death penalty for homosexuality. They don't see equality as something obvious. Why is it obvious to us? If we honestly look at where these ideas come from we have to admit religion played a big role.
In fact, you could say that marriage between a man and a woman is a less religious idea. It has strong roots in biology. That is the way humans reproduce. Yes, various religions have affirmed this but it has always been basically an easy question because the biological data is so strong.
So putting these truths in different categories is not really about secular truths and religious truths. It is more about what the people in question agree with and what then don't. Labeling an idea as religious is basically arguing that you don't like it because it seems to Catholic. What you might call the genetic fallacy.