First Portrait Denarius of Julius Caesar (12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC)
issued in January, 44 B.C,
Silver struck coin
© Image courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group

First Portrait Denarius of Julius Caesar (12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC)
issued in January, 44 B.C,
Silver struck coin
© Image courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group

Gospel of 6 June 2023

Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar 

Mark 12:13-17

The chief priests and the scribes and the elders sent to Jesus some Pharisees and some Herodians to catch him out in what he said. These came and said to him, ‘Master, we know you are an honest man, that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you, and that you teach the way of God in all honesty. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay, yes or no?’ Seeing through their hypocrisy he said to them, ‘Why do you set this trap for me? Hand me a denarius and let me see it.’ They handed him one and he said, ‘Whose head is this? Whose name?’ ‘Caesar’s’ they told him. Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’ This reply took them completely by surprise.

Reflection on the Roman Silver Coin

Caesar was the first Roman politician to strike coins with his own portrait during his lifetime; prior to him, it was generally regarded in Rome as an unacceptable act of political arrogance. By the time of his death in 44 B.C., silver denarii with Caesar's image were being widely used in Rome and throughout the empire. Our illustration above is exactly such a coin that Jesus is talking about in today's Gospel reading: 'Hand me a denarius and let me see it', continuing 'Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar'.

One side of the coin shows Julius Caesar wearing a laurel wreath, the reverse shows him on a chariot, to symbolise his military successes. Earlier coins before Caesar's time would also often have featured chariots, but those chariots were driven at full speed by the supreme Roman god Jupiter, who would be accompanied by a small figure of Victory at his side. Here Caesar is bold enough to replace Jupiter with a portrait of himself in a Roman draped toga, the political dress code of the time.

Although the approach of the Pharisees is superficially flattering, Jesus realised that he was being tested. Jesus was very clever, though, and set up his whole strategic argument by asking for a coin: Hand me a denarius and let me see it. At first glance, this may be because Jesus himself didn't have such a coin on him. That may have been the case. But by asking one of the chief priests to reach into his purse and produce a Roman coin, Jesus could demonstrate that the chief priest was already working with and a beneficiary of the 'earthly' Roman government, closely collaborating with them.

The majority of ancient coin (numismatic) collectors tend to center their acquisitions on Greek or Roman coins. These are by far the most widely researched and easiest to collect, as they were the parents to modern coinage of the Western world. By holding one of these coins, you are holding ancient history in your hands.

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Iris King
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Iris King
8 months ago

Matthew 17:
23 And when they were come to Capharnaum, they that received the didrachmas, came to Peter and said to him: Doth not your master pay the didrachmas?

24 He said: Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying: What is thy opinion, Simon? The kings of the earth, of whom do they receive tribute or custom? of their own children, or of strangers?

25 And he said: Of strangers. Jesus said to him: Then the children are free.

26 But that we may not scandalize them, go to the sea, and cast in a hook: and that fish which shall first come up, take: and when thou hast opened its mouth, thou shalt find a stater: take that, and give it to them for me and thee.

Andy Stoker
Member
Andy Stoker
8 months ago

A study group to which I belong has just started reading John Dominic Crossan’s excellent work – “Render Unto Caesar” https://www.harperacademic.com/book/9780062964939/render-unto-caesar/ . (My own comment) The “religious world” should not be – cannot be – separate from the “secular world” – because all the world belongs to God

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
8 months ago
Reply to  Andy Stoker

Rufus Firefly – good to see you back!

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
8 months ago

As many people know, this Gospel passage is often used to illustrate how the everyday secular world should be separate from the religious world. Thus we all live in this world and have to take part in our civic duties, but we also have a world that we need to engage with that is beyond this one.
Many would say that today we are too interested in our daily relationship with Caesar, and not enough with our eternal destiny beyond this life.

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
8 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Absolutely!

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
8 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

The passage also implies that religious people shouldn’y be in government! Take note theocracies.
We had a lecture at the church about how the papacy was divested of its temporal power when Italy was united. That turned out to be good for the Pope in the long run….

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
8 months ago

Another one of Mark’s wonderful stories- there is so much tension here. We wait for Jesus’ answer, knowing if he rejects Caeser they have caught Him in their trap. Then Jesus gives them not conflict, but a gracious way out. There are no coins in heaven- money is what binds us to the earth.
I was once told that in the Universe no atom dies- so we can breathe the same atoms as Jesus breathed. Here we see coins like those that Jesus touched. He would have seen these coins on a day to day basis. I love this tangibility- those who have been to the Holy Land may feel it too.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
8 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

Yes, the Holy Land definitely brings this point home. There you deal in millenia, not centuries.

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