Render unto Caesar when in Rome

Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.
Pussycat, pussycat, what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under her chair.

I’ve been asked to teach Axa’s Primary class at Church today. The lesson is on obeying the laws of the land. One of the activities is to tell the story from Matthew 22 when the Pharisees and the Herodians go in to trick Jesus with a question about whether they should pay taxes or not. On another tax paying occasion when His disciples were worried about having the needed funds, I remember Him sending them out with their nets to catch a fish with a coin in its stomach. It was better than a fairytale.

But this time he a merely asks his interlocutors to produce a coin and asks them to identify the image stamped on it. He replies with the memorable injunction “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
My lesson manual suggests that I bring a coin to Primary with a picture of a national leader on it. So I went to my purse and emptied it of coins. But I didn’t have much luck. European coins have a pretty generic front side, since they’re used all over the EEC. I turned them over, and found that all the Irish coins had a harp on them. That was a little too abstract. There was one stylised drawing of a national leader, but she was from the Netherlands. My five and six year olds probably had never heard of her. So I asked Axa if I could borrow some of her American change. I dumped it out and considered using a quarter. But really, George Washington seemed out of place in a class in Ireland. And anyway, he’s long dead, and no longer accepting taxes.
Then a 20 pence piece from Great Britain caught my eye. I turned it over and voila! There was a large picture of Queen Elizabeth, looking very royal, with an elaborate crown and everything. Perfect. If it had been a class of Irish children, I might have hesitated, since British imperialism is still anything but popular here. However, the only two children in my class are my daughter, who is American and Italian, and a little girl from France, and both of them have been to England and at least heard of the Queen.
So that’s settled. Now I just have to hope that all the laws they mention in the manual are really laws here. I’m pretty sure jaywalking and having your dog off-leash are illegal here just like in the States. Now I wonder if that’s true in Italy? From observation, I would say no. But in Italy you can’t necessarily tell from observation what is legal. I hope I haven’t been inadvertently breaking too many laws there. There was that one time when the Chief of Police told me it was fine to just overstay my visa. I guess I need a civics course. Good thing I have Primary to get me to think about these things.
Postscript: The children loved the queen and her crown. However, I am still not certain they understand completely the concept of taxation. Oh well.

2 thoughts on “Render unto Caesar when in Rome

  • August 10, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Hello, and thanks for stopping by! I loved your insight about another reason for Him having them show the profile on the coin.

    For me, the story of the fish with the coin illustrates the difference between the power of Caesar (ruling and forcing everyone to pay taxes) and the power of Jesus (knowing that particular fish had swallowed a coin and sending Peter fishing at exactly the right time to catch it. Caesar's power is worldly and obtrusive, always needing to assert itself to prevent rebellion. Jesus' power is quiet and precise. He never indulges in ostentation or unnecessary show. The power of Caesar is like a small, noisy stream, while Divine power is as smooth and unruffled as the calm surface of a lake–only hinting at the majestic depths below.

  • August 10, 2010 at 5:02 am

    Hi Sarah, found you via the link you left on HEUKN.
    I love the way Jesus always turned traps around and caught the would be trapper so neatly.
    I loved the Peter's fish story. I heard it explained that Jesus being King didn't have to pay temple tax- it would be paying Himself in a way. But for it to appear right He sent His Prime Minister Peter to get a coin from a fish- a sort of private in-joke. I love that.
    Also in the Temple when He talked of tax He got them to show Him a coin because He knew they would have Roman rather than the blank Temple coins. He was commenting on their wrong priorities- something that so tragically came out on Good Friday when they declared they had no king but Caesar.
    I love the way all of Scripture fits- each thread woven into the next. It's truly amazing.


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