Paying the Imperial Tax to Caesar – Matthew 22:15-21 – Meaning and Commentary

1. Introductory prayer for Paying the Imperial Tax to Caesar – Matthew 22:15-21

I pause and slowly calm myself. I make the sign of the cross, becoming more deeply aware of God’s presence within me and in everything that surrounds me. I ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the gift of being moved by God’s word, which I am now allowed to read, listen to, ponder, and allow it to shape Christ within me (Gal 4:19), that I may become merciful, just as the heavenly Father is merciful (Lk 6:36). I ask for this in my own words or by using the following:

Please grant me the grace to be able to listen from the outside and from within. From the outside, the words I read, from within, the feelings and impulses that arise. Slowly, I begin to read the passage from the Gospel. Word by word. Line by line. I gaze upon Him who speaks to me.

2. Reading – Listening: Paying the Imperial Tax to Caesar – Matthew 22:15-21

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

3. Thoughts on the Gospel: Paying the Imperial Tax to Caesar – Matthew 22:15-21 – Meaning and Commentary

The Pharisees and Herodians set a trap for Jesus with a question about the tax that the Jews had to pay to the Romans. They were determined to accuse Him and have Him killed in order to diminish His influence on the people.

They posed a tricky question, pretending to be loyal to God’s law.

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If He had said, “You must pay,” they would have accused Him of being a friend of the Romans. If He had said, “You must not pay,” the Roman authorities would have accused Him of inciting rebellion against them. They wanted to put Him in an impossible situation.

Jesus saw through their hypocrisy. He didn’t waste time with pointless arguments in His response. He immediately got to the heart of the matter by asking them about the image and inscription on the coin.

Based on their acknowledgment that it belonged to Caesar, He said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” The Pharisees, Herodians, and the people all recognized Caesar’s authority since they paid him what was due. They also used his money for buying and selling and even for the temple tax.

Their question was entirely irrelevant. Jesus’ response made it clear that, as apparent servants of God, they had forgotten the most important thing – to give to God what belongs to Him. They would only do this when they lived and acted without hypocrisy, in accordance with God’s commandments.

This story holds a deeper meaning. Just as Caesar’s image was imprinted on the coin, God’s image is imprinted in us because we were created in His likeness. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Therefore, we do not belong to ourselves but to God, who created and redeemed us through His Son, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

We are called to reflect Him, His love, justice, mercy, and kindness through our way of life and actions, thereby glorifying and honoring Him and working together to build His kingdom.

Just as Jesus was questioned and accused by the authorities, the Christians in Syria and Palestine, for whom Matthew wrote his Gospel, also faced persecution because of their way of life and testimony about Christ’s resurrection.

When they read in the Gospel about the persecution of Jesus, it provided comfort as they realized they were not alone in their suffering. This encouraged and strengthened their faith to continue their journey. Similarly, this Gospel passage can strengthen us on our path of fidelity to the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.

4. Meditation – Thinking

I am now reflecting on the heard Word of God. I am looking at Jesus and other individuals in the passage. I am observing how the Word of God touches my thoughts and feelings, how it reveals God to me and me to myself and others in Him. The following thoughts or questions can also be helpful:

  • Which part of the Gospel has touched me the most? How does it influence me, my thoughts, words, and actions?
  • In what way should I approach Jesus so that He may reveal Himself and live even more profoundly within me and through me?
  • What will my life and actions look like when I give to God what belongs to Him?

5. Personal Prayer

In the next moments of silence, I talk about this with Jesus. I tell him what I think, what I feel, what I want. I ask him for the grace that I need for … (make your conversation with God).

6. Contemplation – Quiet moment with God

I allow everything within me to fall silent. I am simply present in God, just as He is present in me. Perhaps from this silence and stillness, I will sense even more of God’s address and His desire for me to be always with Him and to do everything with Him and in Him…

7. Action

When I enter into a personal relationship with God, He transforms me, makes me more loving, and inspires me to take concrete action…

8. Prayer at the end

Heavenly Father, thank you for all the comfort and insights I have received. Help me, through your Son and the power of the Holy Spirit, to be able to reflect You in my life and actions in all my relationships and, together with all my brothers and sisters, build your kingdom of peace, justice, and love.

9. Review of my prayer meditation or reflection

This is the time when I became aware of and articulate what was happening within me during prayer. The following questions can assist me in reflection:

  • What was happening during prayer? What feelings and thoughts could I discern within myself?
  • What did I learn about God, His relationship with me and others, and my own relationship with Him and others?
  • How did I conclude my prayer? What did I receive in it for my everyday life?
  • In the end, I can jot down my insights, discoveries, and realizations. I also note where I encountered difficulties, as these can be valuable in understanding God’s relationship with me and my relationship with Him. They can also help me find a more suitable way of praying. Then, I express gratitude to the triune God for everything.

Lectio Divina meditations are published and adapted with permission from the Jesuits home –

Text from the Bible – New International Version (NIV)

Image by Harry Strauss from Pixabay

Let us remain close in the same prayer! May the Lord bless you abundantly!