Tribute to Caesar (Lk 20:22-20:22)

“Is it lawful

For us

To pay taxes

To Caesar,

The Roman Emperor,

Or not?”

 

ἔξεστιν ἡμᾶς Καίσαρι φόρον δοῦναι ἢ οὔ;

 

Luke indicated this group asked whether it was lawful for them (ἔξεστιν ἡμᾶς) to pay taxes (φόρον δοῦναι) to Caesar (Καίσαρι), the Roman Emperor, or not (ἢ οὔ)?  This is similar to Matthew, chapter 22:17, and Mark, chapter 12:14, but slightly different.  They wanted to know what Jesus thought about the Roman tax law.  Mark said that they asked him whether it was lawful to pay the poll tax to Caesar or not (ἔξεστιν δοῦναι κῆνσον Καίσαρι ἢ οὔ)?  They wanted to know the practical answer about whether they should pay this tax or not (δῶμεν ἢ μὴ δῶμεν)?  Matthew indicated that these Pharisee disciples and the Herodians tried to trick Jesus.  They wanted to know what Jesus thought about the Roman tax.  They asked him (εἰπὸν οὖν ἡμῖν) what did he think (τί σοι δοκεῖ).  Was it lawful to pay the poll tax to Caesar or not (ἔξεστιν δοῦναι κῆνσον Καίσαρι ἢ οὔ)?  Rome had an annual personal census tax of one denarius worth about $1.50 USA, not that much.  However, many of the Roman tax collectors were considered sinners.  Jesus, on the other hand, had a milder view of these tax collectors.  He appeared to accept the Roman rule and its taxing policies.  As the political party of the Romans, the Herodians were there.  The Israelites with the Pharisees were there also.  Thus, his answer might offend someone.  In fact, some Jewish zealots refused to pay any civil tax to the emperor.  Do you like to pay taxes?

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The decree of Caesar Augustus (Lk 2:1-2:1)

“In those days,

A decree went out

From the Emperor

Caesar Augustus

That all the world

Should be registered.”

 

Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις ἐξῆλθεν δόγμα παρὰ Καίσαρος Αὐγούστου ἀπογράφεσθαι πᾶσαν τὴν οἰκουμένην.

 

Luke tried to put these events within a historical perspective.  He said that in those days (Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις), a decree or dogma went out (ἐξῆλθεν δόγμα) from the Emperor, Caesar Augustus (παρὰ Καίσαρος Αὐγούστου), that all the world should be registered (ἀπογράφεσθαι πᾶσαν τὴν οἰκουμένην).  Could all the world be registered in a census?  Luke referred to the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, who ruled the Roman empire with his famous Pax Romana, or peace everywhere, from 27 BCE to 14 CE, precisely the time of these events.  Augustus was born in 63 BCE so that he would have been 77 years old when he died.  He was sometimes called god, son of god, savior, or father.  As the adopted son of Julius Caesar, he defeated Mark Anthony and Cleopatra to gain sole control of the empire.  He set up an intricate set of taxes for the empire, so that there was a consent source of income.  Thus, the local tax collectors or publicans became rich, but disliked, official people in the empire.  The month of August was named after him, just as July was named after Julius Caesar.  However, there is no evidence of any call to register the whole world.  However, this would not have been inconsistent with his taxing plans, since the main reason for any registration or census would be for tax purposes.  Thus, this is possible, but unlikely.

Fifth narrative

Jesus traveled toward Jerusalem and taught in the Temple there, debating with the chief priests and religious leaders.  Then he spoke about the coming kingdom of heaven and the future end times.

Jesus finally went to Judea, where he cured large crowds of people.  The Pharisees questioned him about divorce.  Jesus reiterated the importance of marriage, as he spoke about Moses and divorce.  After hearing the response of Jesus about divorce, his disciples wondered why they should marry at all.  Jesus explained about different kind of eunuchs.

The children came forward to Jesus and he blessed them.  He warned against wealth.  To gain eternal life you had to keep the commandments.  They wanted to know which commandments?  The great commandment was not a problem.  However, Jesus asked them to give up their possessions, so that the rich young man walked away.  It was hard for rich people to enter the kingdom like a camel going through the eye of a needle.  Who could be saved?  The response was that all things are possible with God.  Peter wanted to know about the disciples and the eternal life reward, so that Jesus told them that the first shall be last and vice versa.

Then Jesus presented the parable of the laborers in the vineyard.  He hired the first laborers, and then late in the day a second group, a third group and finally a fourth group of laborers.  The last group hired got a full day’s pay.  The first group hired were upset when they got the same as the last group hired.  This brought up the problem of generosity versus fairness, as Jesus explained the parable.

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus predicted what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem.  The mother of the sons of Zebedee wanted to know if her two sons, James and John, could be the greatest, on either side of Jesus.  Jesus pointed out the difficulties and said that only the Father set up the seating arrangements.  This led to ten angry men as they resented the two trying to be first.  Jesus reminded them about servant leadership, as the Son of Man was going to give up his life.

There were great crowds at Jericho where Jesus found two blind men asking for mercy, so he healed them.  Then began the final ministry in Jerusalem with a triumphal entry.  Jesus sent two disciples from Bethpage to get a donkey and a colt because he needed them.  Thus, the prophecy of Zechariah might be fulfilled.  They brought the donkey and the colt to Jesus.  Then crowds welcomed the Son of David into Jerusalem as they began to wonder who this man was?

Jesus went into the Temple and chased out the money changers to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah.  When he cured people in the Temple, the chief priests were angry, but the little children praised him.

Then Jesus went to Bethany.  The next morning, he was hungry.  He saw a fig tree, but it had no figs, so he cursed the fig tree as it withered because of his faith.

People began to question where did Jesus get his authority?  Jesus responded with a question for a question.  He asked them about the value of the baptism of John.  They gave a timid response.  Then he told the parable about the two sons.  The first son said no at first, and then did the work, while the second son said yes and did not do the work.  Which son did the will of his father?  Thus, they did not believe John the Baptist.

Then Jesus told the parable about the wicked tenants.  This absentee land owner of the vineyard sent people to collect his rent.  Instead, the tenants beat and killed the landowner’s slaves.  He sent a second group that was also killed.  Then the tenants killed the landowner’s son.  Finally, the landowner came to take back his vineyard, citing Psalm 118 about the kingdom of God and the falling cornerstone.  The Pharisees understood this parable and tried to arrest Jesus.

Jesus continued to speak in parables.  This parable was about the king who gave a great wedding banquet.  However, the invited guests refused to come to the wedding banquet.  He sent out a second invitation to the wedding banquet, but they refused the second invitation also.  They treated his slaves badly.  The king was angry and sent out new invitations to the wedding feast.  Finally, a man without a wedding garment showed up, but he threw him out of the feast.  The explanation of this parable was that many are called, but few are chosen.

Next the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus by flattering him.  They asked him a question about taxes.  Jesus gave a harsh response as he had a dialogue about the Roman coin about whose image was on it.  Give Caesar his due.  The Pharisees and their disciples left.

However, the Sadducees asked a question about the resurrection.  There was a law about marrying the brother of a dead man.  There was a woman who married seven brothers, who was her husband in the resurrection?  Jesus responded that there was no marriage in the resurrection.  The living God of their ancestors would show them the way.  The crowd was astonished.

The Pharisees regrouped and wanted to know what is the greatest commandment?  Jesus responded about the two great commandments to love God and your neighbor.  Then Jesus asked the Pharisees a question.  Was the Christ the son of David?  Then who was the Lord for David?  After that there were no more questions for Jesus.

Jesus then cursed the Scribes and Pharisees.  He told his disciples to do what they say, but not what they do.  They tied up heavy burdens on the people.  They wore special clothing and sought the places of honor.  They want to be called Rabbis.  No one was your father or master.  Greatness comes with humility.  They tried to lock people out of heaven as they shut it off.  Even when they tried to make converts, they are like blind guides and fools.  They swore by the altar or the gift of the altar.  They swore by heaven, but they had forgotten the law.  They wanted the gnat out your eye but had a camel in their own eye.  They worried about the outside of the cup instead of the inside.  They were like whitewashed tombs.  They proclaimed reverence for the tombs of the prophets, but they were like their sinning ancestors. They were like serpents.  They would kill the prophets.  They spread innocent blood.  Soon the house of Jerusalem would be desolate.

Finally, there were the predictions about the end times.  Jesus left the Temple as he predicted its destruction.  What are the signs of the Parousia?  There would be the beginning of the great suffering so that they should not be lead astray.  There would be rumors of wars in those troubled times.  They would be persecuted for the sake of Jesus.  There would be betrayals and false prophets.  Love would grow cold.  Endurance would be necessary.  The importance of Daniel the prophet was emphasized.  In Judea, they would flee to the housetops.  It would be too late for the people in the fields.  This would be the wrong time to be pregnant or nursing.  There would be great tribulation, but the days would be short.

The end was coming because there would be false Christs and people looking for the Messiah.  The Son of Man would come on the clouds as the darkness in the skies appeared.  There would be a gathering of the chosen ones.  Using the parable of the fig tree, they could tell that the end was near.  This generation would pass away, but Jesus’ words would not pass away.  No one knew the day, since it would be like in the days of Noah.  Only one would be taken and the other left, so be ready.  Be a wise and faithful slave, not a wicked slave.

Jesus told the parable of the ten bridesmaids where half were wise and half foolish.  They all fell asleep.  When the bridegroom came, they all got up.  However, the foolish ones had no oil and wise ones said that there was not enough oil for both of them.  When the foolish left to get oil, they shut the door.  When they came back, the bridegroom said that he did not know them.  Thus, you do not know the day.

Next Jesus told the parable of the talents.  A man entrusted his assets to his slaves.  He gave them money.  One slave added five more talents, another added two more talents, but the third slave dug a hole and buried his money.  The master settled their accounts.  The slave with five talents got five more talents.  The slave with two talents got two more talents.  The slave with one talent was rebuked and punished.  Thus, there will be rewards and punishments at the end times.

In the last judgment, the Son of Man would appear in glory.  There would be sheep and goats, with the sheep on the right hand.  They had taken care of him.  They wondered when they had done this.  The Son of Man replied that they took care of him when they cared for the least of his brothers.  Then he told the goats on his left side to depart from him because they had not taken care of him when they did not care for the lowly people.  Thus, there would be eternal punishment or eternal reward.

Do the sons of the king pay the tax? (Mt 17:25-17:26)

“When Peter came home,

Jesus anticipated

What Peter was going to say.

He asked him.

‘What do you think?

Simon!

From whom do kings

Of the earth

Take taxes

Or tributes?

Do they demand that

From their children

Or from other strangers?’

When Peter said.

‘From other strangers.’

Jesus said to him.

‘Then indeed

The children

Are free.’”

 

καὶ ἐλθόντα εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν προέφθασεν αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων Τί σοι δοκεῖ, Σίμων; οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς ἀπὸ τίνων λαμβάνουσιν τέλη ἢ κῆνσον; ἀπὸ τῶν υἱῶν αὐτῶν ἢ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀλλοτρίων;

εἰπόντος δέ Ἀπὸ τῶν ἀλλοτρίων, ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς Ἄραγε ἐλεύθεροί εἰσιν οἱ υἱοί.

 

This section about the temple tax is unique to Matthew.  When Peter came home (καὶ ἐλθόντα εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν), after talking to the collectors of the Temple tax, Jesus anticipated that Peter (προέφθασεν αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς) was going to ask him about this tax.  He spoke to him, addressing him as Simon, and not Peter, as he asked him what did he think (λέγων Τί σοι δοκεῖ, Σίμων) about paying this tax?  Jesus wanted to know if the kings of the earth take taxes (οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς ἀπὸ τίνων λαμβάνουσιν τέλη ἢ κῆνσον) from their own sons or children or rather from other strangers (ἀπὸ τῶν υἱῶν αὐτῶν ἢ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀλλοτρίων).  Peter responded that kings take their taxes and tolls from other strangers (εἰπόντος δέ Ἀπὸ τῶν ἀλλοτρίων), not their children.  Then Jesus said to him that indeed the sons or the children are free from this obligation to pay taxes (ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς Ἄραγε ἐλεύθεροί εἰσιν οἱ υἱοί).  Jesus implied that they were the sons or children of God.

The letter of King Demetrius II to Simon (1 Macc 13:35-13:40)

King Demetrius sent him a favorable reply to this request. He wrote him a letter as follows.

‘King Demetrius

To Simon, the high priest and friend of kings,

And to the elders and nation of the Jews,

Greetings!

We have received the gold crown

And the palm branch that you sent.

We are ready to make a general peace with you.

We are ready to write to our officials

To grant you release from tribute.

All the grants that we have made to you remain valid.

Let the strongholds that you have built be your possession.

We pardon any errors and offenses committed to this day.

We cancel the crown tax that you owe.

Whatever other tax has been collected in Jerusalem

Shall be collected no longer.

If any of you are qualified to be enrolled in our bodyguard,

Let them be enrolled.

Let there be peace between us.’”

In a strong letter to Simon, the deposed King Demetrius II granted sovereignty to Judah. The letter was addressed to Simon, the elders, and the whole Jewish nation. King Demetrius II still considered himself the King of Syria. He accepted the gifts that Simon had sent him, the gold crown and the palm branch. He wanted to have peace with Simon. He said that the Jews no longer had to pay tribute or the crown tax to him. He also stated that all the grants that he had given before still stand. He pardoned all offenses committed to that day. There were to be no more taxes in Jerusalem. Anyone qualified could become part of his bodyguard. He just wanted peace between the two of them.

King Demetrius II’s letter to Jonathan (1 Macc 11:29-11:37)

“The king wrote a letter to Jonathan about all these things. It contents were as follows.

‘King Demetrius to his brother Jonathan

And to the nation of the Jews,

Greetings!

This copy of the letter that we wrote concerning you

To our kinsman Lasthenes,

We have written to you also,

So that you may know what it says.

‘King Demetrius to his father Lasthenes,

Greetings!

We have determined to do good to the nation of the Jews.

They are our friends.

They fulfill their obligations to us.

They have shown us good will.

We have confirmed as their possession

Both the territory of Judea,

And the three districts of Aphairema, Lydda, and Rathamin.

The latter with the region bordering them.

They were added to Judea from Samaria.

To all those who offer sacrifice in Jerusalem,

We have granted release from the royal taxes

That the king formerly received from them each year,

From the crops of the land

And the fruit of the trees.

The other payments henceforth due to us of the tithes,

And the other taxes due to us,

And the salt pits

And the crown taxes due to us.

From all these we shall grant them release.

Not one of these grants shall be canceled

From this time on forever.

Now therefore take care to make a copy of this.

Let it be given to Jonathan.

Let it be put up in a conspicuous place on the holy mountain.’”

King Demetrius II sent a copy of a letter that he had sent to Lasthenes, who was probably the governor of Coele-syria. He granted to Jonathan and the Jewish nation most of things that his father, King Demetrius I had promised them in the fight against King Alexander I in preceding chapter. He was very particular about taxes and the annexation of the 3 territories of Samaria that were within 20 miles of Judea. Everything seemed in good shape.

Esther becomes the new queen (Esth 2:15-2:18)

“When the turn came for Esther daughter of Abihail, the uncle of Mordecai who had adopted her as his own daughter, to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king’s eunuch who had charge of the women, advised. Now Esther was admired by all as she found favor in the eyes of all who saw her. When Esther was taken to King Artaxerxes into his royal palace in the twelfth month, which is Adar, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the other women. She won his favor and grace over all the virgins. He set the royal diadem crown on her head as she became queen. Then the king gave a great banquet to all his friends and officials lasting seven days to celebrate his marriage to Esther. He also granted a holiday remission of taxes to all the provinces under his rule. He gave gifts with royal liberality.”

Esther finally got her turn to audition with the king. She simply followed the advice of the eunuch Hegai. This was now the 7th year of the king’s rule, around 458 BCE. The original feast where the argument took place about Queen Vashti was in the 3rd year of his rule. Now after 4 years, Vashti was gone, without any mention of what happened to her. Now King Artaxerxes was smitten with Esther as he said that she was the one, since he loved her more than all the others. He immediately gave her the crown as she became Queen Esther. He gave a big wedding banquet in Esther’s honor. He also gave a tax holiday. Now that is a real holiday. He also gave gifts, which seems the opposite of most weddings where the bride and groom get the gifts. There is no specific mention of a wedding ceremony, but it might be presumed if they had a wedding banquet. There seems to be no problem about a Jewish woman marrying a non-Jewish person as there was in Ezra, chapters 9-10, and Nehemiah, chapter 10, which would have been about the same time frame. That prohibition was more about Jewish men marrying non-Jewish women.