Was Jesus having a lark?

In an article posted on Strike the Root, Lawrence Ludlow says that Jesus’ teaching on taxes was a prank on the Pharisees, and that no one gets the joke.

First, Jesus was clearly ridiculing his accusers when he led them to assume that the presence of Caesar’s likeness and inscription on the coin proved that Caesar held a title of ownership to that coin and that the tax should be paid. One might just as well claim that the picture of a Quaker wearing a blue hat on every box of Quaker Oats oatmeal “proves” that the Quaker owns every box of oatmeal that features his likeness on it. Likewise, the image of George Washington on a U.S. quarter dollar does not mean that George owns every such coin or that we should pay taxes because of it. It seems obvious that Jesus was making the same kind of joke with reference to the denarius.

2 thoughts on “Was Jesus having a lark?

  1. freeman April 15, 2009 at 23:55

    This reminds me of the following excerpt from an Ivan Illich lecture:

    “Churches also have their problems with a Jesus whose only economics are jokes. A savior undermines the foundations of any social doctrine of the Church. But that is what He does, whenever He is faced with money matters. According to Mark 12:13 there was a group of Herodians who wanted to catch Him in His own words. They ask “Must we pay tribute to Caesar?” You know His answer: “Give me a coin – tell me whose profile is on it!.” Of course they answer “Caesar’s.”
    The drachma is a weight of silver marked with Caesar’s effigy.

    A Roman coin was no impersonal silver dollar; there was none of that “trust in God” or adornment with a presidential portrait. A denarius was a piece of precious metal branded, as it were, like a heifer, with the sign of the personal owner. Not the Treasury, but Caesar coins and owns the currency. Only if this characteristic of Roman currency is understood, one grasps the analogy between the answer to the devil who tempted Him with power and to the Herodians who tempt Him with money. His response is clear: abandon all that which has been branded by Caesar; but then, enjoy the knowledge that everything, everything else is God’s, and therefore is to be used by you.
    The message is so simple: Jesus jokes about Caesar. He shrugs off his control. And not only at that one instance… Remember the occasion at the Lake of Capharnaum, when Peter is asked to pay a twopenny tax. Jesus sends him to throw a line into the lake and pick the coin he needs from the mouth of the first fish that bites. Oriental stories up to the time of Thousand Nights and One Night are full of beggars who catch the fish that has swallowed a piece of gold. His gesture is that of a clown; it shows that this miracle is not meant to prove him omnipotent but indifferent to matters of money. Who wants power submits to the Devil and who wants denarri submits to the Caesar.”

  2. Aaron Kinney April 17, 2009 at 15:40

    Thats the problem with reading a transcript of what someone said vs actually being there. Often when one reads text instead of hearing the person speaking, the sarcasm, parody, or lampooning is not evident, and the more subtle the parody, the more likely it is to be taken literally when read in text form.

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