As we journey through the Witness of Mark, we want to encourage you to first begin with the Daily Reading that will take you through the entire book of Mark. Then, read the First 15 Scripture and Reflection to dive a little deeper into verses from the Daily Reading.
Today's daily reading is: Mark 12:13-44
Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words.
The Pharisees and the Herodians are on the hunt.
The chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders (whether affiliating with the Pharisees, Sadducees, or Herodians) have all noticed that Jesus has won the crowd. The people believe Jesus is a prophet. He has been welcomed into Jerusalem as a descendant of David, a prospective king. Some excitedly whisper, “Jesus is the Messiah of Israel!” Rumblings, rumblings, everywhere. Because of this, Jesus is dangerous to those in control of the city. He is a potential revolutionary. The powerful, when threatened, eliminate people like Jesus.
The chief priests, teachers, and elders choose a strategy: divide and conquer. They will pit one faction against another, create division, and neutralize Jesus. Jesus’ opponents come up with a trap to catch him in his words. The Greek word in Mark 12:13, agreúō, means to ensnare or entrap in the same way a hunter captures a wild animal or beast. The Pharisees and Herodians are the predators; Jesus is the prey.
The Pharisees and Herodians are the perfect people for the job. The Pharisees were populists, while the Herodians were cozy with the Romans. They devised a perfect question for Jesus, one that would be difficult to answer without offending one group or the other. After flattering Jesus, calling him a person of integrity and wisdom, they ask, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar, or not? Should we pay, or shouldn’t we?”
The Pharisees regarded the imperial tax as an unlawful subjugation, an oppressive burden placed on the people by their Roman occupiers. The tax was a harsh reminder that Israel lacked independence and a sovereign of their own. The Herodians, on the other hand, found the tax a reasonable concession to their overlords, and were happy to pay the tax in exchange for peace and protection. The Herodians were also in political power. The status quo benefited them.
When Jesus is questioned, he saw through their scheme and asks, “Why are you trying to trap me?” He then asks to see a denarius, a coin minted by the Romans. Notice: in Mark’s telling Jesus asks only to look at it. Someone in the crowd produces a coin. At this point, Jesus has won the argument. He has sprung a trap of his own. Do you see it?
A denarius showed an image of Caesar. On one side the inscription read, “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Augustus.” On the other, “Pontifex Maximus,” or high priest. Someone among the Pharisees and Herodians carried a graven image in their pocket, an idolatrous coin that proclaimed Caesar as “Son of ‘Divine’ Augustus” and “High Priest” of the Roman cultic apparatus. Jesus is vindicated the moment the coin is produced.
But Jesus presses his point and goes further. He asks, “Whose image is this? Whose inscription?” The obvious answer is given: “Caesar’s.”
Jesus’ audience knows the Scriptures. The moment Jesus asks about the image, perhaps another idea came to mind. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created humanity in the image of God. Therefore, even Caesar bears the stamp of the God of Israel, the image and inscription of the Creator. When Jesus says, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” another verse may have quietly hung in the air. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Caesar belongs to God, as do we all, along with all our resources. We are only stewards. In the end, we owe God everything.
Jesus not only refutes his opponents, but he speaks as God’s Son and humanity’s Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). Our Lord, the one to whom we owe everything, stands in the temple courts, confounding those who stand against him. Jesus’ adversaries were amazed. I am, too.
Lord Jesus, help me to honor you today, to submit to your direction and leading, and to stand amazed at your mercy, grace, wisdom, and strength. Humble me, and lift me up, that I might serve you. Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.