Supermarkets tempt us through their doors by trumpeting special offers and price reductions on things we buy regularly. At the same time they boost their profits by raising the prices of items we don’t buy very often, rightly assuming that we probably won’t realise. Stick 2p on a litre of milk and we’ll notice immediately, but put 10p on the cost of lightbulb and chances are we won’t.
In Jesus’ day a similar scam went on amongst Jewish tax collectors who would raise more than the Romans required and pocket the difference. People knew they were being cheated and hated it. So for Jesus’ enemies it seemed like a good line of attack to ask whether He thought the tax should be paid at all – say yes and the Jews would despise Him, say no and he’d be in trouble with the Romans.
Jesus sees through their game and answers in a way that puts the challenge back in their own court. “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what is God’s”, He says; the point being that it’s easy to fixate on material things that in the end aren’t so important, and the dander of doing so is that we may miss what really counts – giving to God our lives which are rightfully His.