Watching for a chance to get him, they sent spies who posed as honest inquirers, hoping to trick him into saying something that would get him in trouble with the law. So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you’re honest and straightforward when you teach, that you don’t pander to anyone but teach the way of God accurately. Tell us: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
He knew they were laying for him and said, “Show me a coin. Now, this engraving, who does it look like and what does it say?”
“Caesar,” they said.
Jesus said, “Then give Caesar what is his and give God what is his.”
Try as they might, they couldn’t trap him into saying anything incriminating. His answer caught them off guard and left them speechless.
The cost of commuting has soared to a new high. Or is it low? Across the country train fares are being hiked, along with VAT rates and petrol costs. A cheeky pint is looking more insolent in the cold light of 20%.
Salaries at my workplace were frozen last year, although any increase would be miniscule in comparison to this new cost of living, and my heart goes out to anyone who has been made redundant. London weighting has not changed in 15 years and yet anyone who has to travel to, from and within the city, not to mention drink, eat and, it feels, breathe pay more than in any other part of the country.
Our disposable income is being siphoned away through taxes and nigh-on monopolies that exploit free market mentality. The savings we make by living outside of the city are lost along with the hours spent making the journey.
Jesus in the famous passage above says, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” – a statement that has been analysed left, right and sideways. Theologians and philosophers have suggested variously that he was being evasive, divisive, submissive and, it seems, ultimately quite effective, since it can therefore mean what you want it to mean.
How do Jesus’ words relate to facing up to the cost of commuting? They invite the question: how much you are willing to give the State? There is a greater cost to commuting than just financial; there is your free time, your family time, your personal space, and they are definitely not Caesar’s to own.
If you interpret Jesus’ words as divisive then there is an even bigger question to answer, because with paying more tax across the board, you render Caesar that much more. Marx-reading Mennonites don their suit and shame for the 7.15 to King’s Cross to make their 9am lecture on civil disobedience.
We have created a society so big that it expects its citizens to live and work many miles apart and yet David Cameron’s ideal of a “Big Society” is conversely about identifying the smaller communities and making them more self-reliant through their members. Perhaps Cameron himself hasn’t faced up to the wider costs of commuting.
Aside from the unpragmatic implications of the Big Society, and its reliance on the disposable non-working hours that many people don’t have, it may perhaps provide escape: jobs and employment move out of the battery farms and sardine tins of cityscapes and into local offices and high streets. The commute is no more (nothing is certain but death and taxes).
Idealistic perhaps, but as long we choose to pay the fares and be part of the commute we render unto Caesar that which is his, and more: we also render him our dreams.