There are a number of passages of Sacred Scripture
that get distorted in their meaning; today’s Gospel is one of them.
Specifically, when our Lord says,
“repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar’s,
and to God what belongs to God.”
Whenever we as Christians seek to have a say
about government laws or policies, we often hear this passage quoted,
as if to say to us, Jesus wants us to let the government do whatever.
A lot of us heard people saying that
in the controversy over the government’s order
that nearly every employer, including many religious organizations,
would be forced to provide contraceptives
and abortion-causing drugs
as part of the insurance they provide at work.
As you know, there were many lawsuits over that,
and we’ve won a number of legal victories,
including the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, the government is still looking for ways
to continue its coercion.
And during this whole thing,
we’ve heard people say, “Render unto Caesar.”
Well, they are misunderstanding what Jesus said. Let’s look at it.
First, notice the discussion was specifically about a tax—
not about broader questions of government power.
Second, Jesus is dealing with people he knows bear him malice.
We might wonder what he’d have said, if they’d been sincere.
So our Lord says, “show me the coin.” Then he asks, “who is this?”
It’s actually kind of funny, if you think about it.
These critics of Jesus are impressed with Caesar,
as the ruler of mighty Rome,
but they despise Jesus as a troublemaker.
Meanwhile, we see Jesus – who is the true king, the King of kings,
asking who is this? As if to say, is this someone famous?
Notice what else our Lord said: “whose image is this?”
If the coin belongs to Caesar – because it bears his image –
then by that rule, God gets what bears his image, right?
What bears the image of God, and the “inscription” of God?
Well, that would be all of Creation!
“The heavens declare the glory of God,” Psalm 19 says;
creation bears witness to God, Paul wrote to the Romans.
Can you picture it? Jesus, the Lord, holding in one hand,
What bear’s Caesar’s image: a grubby coin.
And in the other hand, what bears his image?
That would be the whole world…in his hand!
Above all, the image of God is the human race.
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,”
is what God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit said
before they created humanity:
“male and female he created them.”
So when our government says its OK to destroy unborn children?
And to torture people as part of war?
Or to humiliate the poor, because they are poor?
Or to push aside the sick and elderly?
These are God’s treasure! They bear his image! Hands off, Caesar!
Do you know where this applies most clearly? Marriage.
Recall again what Genesis said:
“in the image of God…male and female, he created them.”
When we say we are made in the divine image, what does that mean?
God is the Creator above all.
While God created everything out of nothing, what do we do?
If you are an engineer or architect or in construction,
you can build whole cities,
but you have to labor with wood and stone and steel –
you can’t make it out of nothing.
The farmer can produce a great harvest,
but he needs seed and soil and sweat,
and the blessing of the right weather at the right time.
If you are a writer or poet or painter,
you can create people and worlds and histories—
but they only exist on canvas, or the printed page,
or the silver screen.
You can’t breathe them into life.
But there is a moment—just one!—
when man in breathtaking audacity soars to the skies
and comes whisper-close to being just like God,
and in a moment of unrestrained love, generous and sacrificial,
actually does it! Actually creates something from nothing!
And not just any something, but the greatest of somethings—
another divine image, a human being that will live forever!
It’s when a man and woman come together in the marital embrace.
Marriage – requiring a man and a woman –
is when humanity is most fully the image of God!
Hands off, Caesar!
The next time someone quotes this Gospel to you,
as if to say, even Jesus says let government do what it likes,
you might quote back today’s first reading.
It mentions Cyrus,
who was the all-powerful Persian emperor in Isaiah’s time.
But notice: it’s God who calls the shots;
Cyrus does his bidding, not the other way around.
Cyrus didn’t intend to do God’s bidding, but no matter.
God is one in charge.
Now let’s bring it forward to our own time.
When Jesus said these words,
no one asked him, or anyone else,
what the laws should be, or who should govern.
But in our time, we make those decisions.
In a few weeks, we will have a great privilege
of selecting a governor and other statewide offices,
as well as the state legislature, as well as the U.S. Congress.
When you go to vote in a few weeks,
will you know whose on the ballot? What do they stand for?
Do they respect what bears God’s image, or not?
Meanwhile, you and I are images of God.
We bear his inscription in our hearts.
A lot of times the coins in our pockets get pretty soiled,
and they get distorted; the same with us.
That’s why we have confession, to restore that image;
and the Eucharist, where we unite once again
with the Lord whose image we are.
Jesus doesn’t want Caesar’s coin. But he claims you.