One time Jesus’ opponents sought to trap him in his words, so they asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” At the time, the oppressive taxes of the Roman state were vastly unpopular. If Jesus had said, “pay your taxes,” popular sentiment would’ve turned against him. If he said, “don’t pay your taxes,” the State authorities would’ve charged him with sedition. So, Jesus asks for a Roman coin. They present him one and he remarks, “Whose head is this and whose title?” They respond, “The emperor’s.” Then comes the famous retort that confounded his detractors, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:15-22).
Jesus often evades direct answers because this isn’t a yes or no world. When Jesus is asked by whose authority he teaches, he answers, “First let me ask you a question. Answer my question and then I’ll present my credentials. About the baptism of John—who authorized it: heaven or humans? Tell me” (Mark 11:29-31, MSG). They were on the spot and knew it.
Whenever Jesus is asked a question in the Gospels he usually responds with another question. Jesus steers clear of litmus tests and ultimatums. Litmus tests include the question, “Are you born again?” It’s a game of either/or politics that pins people down on single issues. The truth is more complex. We’re in this world and the next. We belong to the Church and the State. Jesus is God and human with emphasis on the word “and.” For those with eyes to see and ears to hear we exist in both eternity and time. Either/or answers don’t penetrate the truth. Jesus is God in human form with all the implied complications and subtle nuances.