The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.
Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.
Who pretended to be sincere…
Yesterday I was listening to Mike Rowe’s podcast, The Way I Heard It. He’s begun reading a chapter of his book, by the same name, each week. The theme of this week’s chapter was, “Be Wary of All Earnestness.” In the podcast Mike talked about how earnestness and sincerity were different things. Earnestness, he said, is what late night television salesman use to get you to buy things. They are certainly earnest, but they are not necessarily sincere.
Sincerity is something different.
Much has been made of Jesus’ response in the story above. People have written long and spilled much ink. I mean, so many of us want to be able to dodge the tax man, right? Particularly so back in the day. The Roman tax collectors were more akin to the Mafia than they were to the nerdy IRS guys of our imaginations. The people asking this question desperately wanted to get Jesus to say that they shouldn’t pay taxes to the empire. They knew he had a subversive streak and expected him to say, “No.” The moment he taught that people could avoid paying taxes, they could scoop him up on a citizen’s arrest, and take him to be crucified.
But, Jesus knew they were not sincere, “He saw through their duplicity.” He answered shrewdly and shut them up. His response was perfect. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Such a great response. Because while Caesar’s image was on the coin, God’s image was in the person. This was something that he and his audience all believed.
To be earnest is something on the surface. You can be earnest but not truly sincere. So how do we differentiate between the earnest and the truly sincere?
That is the question isn’t it?
I think we go back to what Jesus said. “Give to God’s what is God’s.”
The whole of ourselves is what is stamped with God’s image. This means that we must give all of ourselves to God. Those that are doing so are marked by some different attributes and qualities. What we see is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Where we see these characteristics we can know that we are seeing people of sincerity. You see, those qualities are not something that you can fake. As Jesus said elsewhere, “You know a tree by its fruit.”
How do know if someone is sincere? Their life will reflect it in word and deed.
How do we know if we are sincere? Our life will reflect it in word and deed.
Will we be perfect? No.
But, what is the trajectory of our lives? Are we growing in these areas?
Spend some time today, take a look at yourself and your words and deeds. Are you earnest or are you sincere?