The Pharisees had deliberately set out to trap Jesus by asking Him if it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. But it was the Pharisees themselves who fell into a trap, that of trying to divide the physical from the spiritual.
If Jesus says that paying taxes to a pagan conqueror is permissible, then they can denounce Hm as spiritually unworthy, someone who does not respect the higher authority of God.
However, If Jesus says paying tax is not permissible, His enemies would hope that the Roman occupiers would intervene and arrest Jesus for inciting revolt.
Jesus’ reply is more that an intellectually deft escape. It is a profound comment on the relationship between the physical and the spiritual, between the sacred and the secular.
“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s” says Jesus.
He urges us to give due attention to the secular and the material and proper attention to the sacred and the spiritual in their turn.
He does not suggest that we attempt to divide the two and live either entirely in the physical, or completely in the spiritual domain, like a hermit.
Rather, Jesus warns that as human beings, with bodies and souls, we cannot afford to disregard either.
There is a temptation to separate our lives into physical or spiritual boxes. For some people work can become a purely physical realm where they earn money and carry out their tasks without consideration of the other dimensions of their faith which might apply.
They mistakenly imagine that God is not interested in this aspect of their lives, or in the mundane household business of living.
Jesus reminds us that God is interested in all that we do, asking us to deal wisely and thoughtfully with the material as well as the spiritual aspects of life.
God wants us to pray and worship and do good, but He also cares about how and where we spend our money and how we go about earning it.
We need Christ’s wisdom and grace if we are to escape from the trap of boxing our lives in sacred and secular. When moral or ethical dilemmas interrupt the humdrum, physical box we call work/home we need courage not to turn a blind eye or to opt for a quiet life.
While we are engaged in secular activities, spiritual values, those of love and justice, still apply.
Our duty to God, and God’s law, is paramount.
Yet such spiritual values should not lead us to despise the secular, events or people. If our religious convictions leads us to shun all that is not purely spiritual, we could end up with a life as barren as that of a miser. Jesus calls us to treat the sacred and secular with due respect, to strive to integrate them, not to separate them. We need to be ready to find the sacred in the apparently secular and to allow our spiritual values to influence our lives in the material realm.