The famous Gospel passage heard today at Mass stands out as a partial exception, because Jesus did address, albeit cryptically, the issue of paying taxes to the Roman Emperor. Indeed, in context, the entire issue of Roman authority and political obedience implicitly are treated in briefest scope. But even in this most explicitly “political” passage in the Gospels, what we hear from Jesus is deliberately vague, and leaves the hearer with the burden of wrestling with his meaning: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God, what is God’s.” Well, what belongs to Caesar? What belongs to God? What is one supposed to give to whom? Here again, Jesus’ “answer” provokes questions. But Jesus does suggest where to look for an answer, and it is exactly where his interlocutors are not looking. “Whose inscription is this, and whose title?” Whereas the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus on this issue, he in effect trapped them in their own hypocrisy. They would not see what they see. In other words, the folks trying to trap Jesus were self-blinded, or closed to the truth of reality.
And that seemingly blunt entrapment of his opponents in their own words and deeds is an essential part of his answer to the question of “paying taxes to Caesar.” “Whose image is this?”
Perhaps that is the question.