Jesus the Escape Artist

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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“Well then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

Luke 20:25

Ever since I was young, I have been fascinated by escape artists. My fascination began, I think, when I saw the movie Houdini starring Tony Curtis. Soon afterwards, I read a juvenile biography of Houdini, who was perhaps the greatest escape artist of all time. He could get out of just about anything: handcuffs, straitjackets, chains, jails, water-torture name it.

In Luke 20:20-26, Jesus shows himself to be an escape artist of a different kind. The Jewish leaders were seeking a way to get Jesus in trouble with the Roman officials, so they devised a clever plan. Several of their agents asked Jesus, “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (20:22). If Jesus said, “Yes, it’s right,” then his popularity with the people would plummet, because they hated paying taxes to Rome. If, however, he said, “No, it’s not right to pay taxes to Caesar,” then Jesus would be arrested as an insurrectionist and severely punished. Either way, Jesus would no longer be a problem for his opponents. They had laid the perfect trap.

Or so it seemed. But they failed to account for Jesus’ escape-artist skills. When asked whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar or not, Jesus instructed his questioners to show him one of their Roman coins, asking, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” (20:24). They replied correctly that Caesar’s face adorned the coin. Then, Jesus said, “Well then,...give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (20:25). This answer shocked his interlocutors, who were amazed by what Jesus had said.

How did Jesus escape from the trap that had been set for him? For one thing, he did not answer the question in the way it had been posed to him. Rather, he reframed the issue in a way that both clarified and confounded. He suggested that it was possible to do what Caesar demanded (pay taxes) and to be loyal to God. It was as if he was saying, “If you’re going to use Caesar’s money, then give back to him the portion he demands. Yet your highest duty is to give to God what belongs to him, and you can do this even as you pay taxes to Caesar.”

In tomorrow’s reflection, I will consider further what it means to live faithfully in a world dominated by “Caesar.” For now, I would encourage you to think about what it means for you to “give to God what belongs to God.”

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What does it mean for you to give to God what belongs to God? What in your life belongs to God? How can you give it to him? What difference would it make today if you were to give to God all that belongs to him in your life?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, I must say I’m impressed by your escape artistry here. Yet you didn’t just get out of a tight jam. You also helped us to see our lives in a challenging new way.

Like most people, I don’t like paying taxes. Yet, I am reminded today that I must strive to pay what I owe, to obey the laws of my country, and to do so in obedience to you.

Yet, there is a sense in which everything in my life belongs fully and finally to you, even the money in my pocket that bears the name of my country. This can be confusing, Lord. Help me to understand how to rightly live as a citizen of earth, while at the same time living as a citizen of heaven. After all, you are my King, the King of kings and Lord of lords. Amen.