Maybe when you were a child you had this little scam pulled on you by an older sibling or the neighborhood bully. “Hey kid,” they said to you, “I’ll flip you for that, OK? Heads I win; tails you lose.” We fell for that a few times before recognizing that was a no-win set up! And oh, how many times since then have we found ourselves in what were apparently no-win scenarios?
No-win scenarios are not simply a modern phenomenon, of course. One of the most interesting ancient examples is recounted in the gospel stories about a conversation between Jesus and the religious and political leaders of his day. Jesus was apparently causing enough commotion that some way to discredit him was sought. The local leaders thought they’d found the way when they approached Jesus with this question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
Every ear in the crowd must have strained to hear the teacher try to answer that one! You see, if Jesus said it was necessary to pay the taxes, then he’d alienate all his countrymen who resented Caesar’s brutal rule and resisted Roman taxation as a religious and patriotic act. He’d be denounced as a traitor to his people.
On the other hand, if Jesus answered this question by claiming that they needn’t pay the taxes due to Caesar, he could be accused of insurrection against Rome and arrested by the government authorities.
Heads, Jesus is a traitor. Tails, he is an insurrectionist. No way to win this one. So Jesus changed the game. He asked someone to hand him the coin used for paying the hated Roman tax. The coin, he noted, bore Caesar’s image and title. Then Jesus told the assembled crowd: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
We are made in the image of God. If we owe Caesar our pocket change, we owe God our very selves. That realization helps to put things into perspective.
Do you ever feel trapped by circumstances that seem to leave you with only bad choices? Do you ever feel stuck in a spot where there is bound to be disappointment, heartache or loss for someone – maybe for you? Perhaps all these apparently no-win scenarios will be less troubling if we widen our perspective and remember whose authority is foremost in our lives.