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.
A lot of us heard this 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, the Catholic Church and many others
who objected to this violation of freedom of conscience
have been fighting in the courts over this for many years.
We won some key decisions.
But recently, the Trump Administration issued new guidance
that finally allows all employers – not just religious organizations –
the right to refrain from participating
in the provision of contraceptives.
I want to reiterate this: all employers
now have the right to refuse to cooperate in this.
While contraceptives may be legal, they are never morally acceptable.
In any case, all during this, we’ve heard people say,
“Render unto Caesar.” As if Christ is saying,
what government wants, government gets.
Let’s just get this clear right now. That’s wrong!
That is not what Jesus is saying in this Gospel.
First, notice the discussion was specifically about a tax—
And about a coin.
They show him the coin, and he asks, “whose image is this?”
That is the key: because the coin bears Caesar’s image,
then it belongs to him. Let him have what bears his image.
Then listen what he says next: “And what belongs to God, give to God.”
The coin bears Caesar’s image;
But tell me: what bears God’s image, God’s inscription?
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.
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, you and I make those decisions.
Did you know there is an election in a few weeks?
There are just a few items on the ballot.
Statewide, there are two issues;
and in various places there are tax levies.
For example, there is a levy for our Russia Volunteer Fire Department,
and there is a levy for the Houston Ambulance District.
Obviously it’s vital to have our fire and ambulance services,
who save lives every day.
And I want to reiterate: it isn’t Caesar or someone else who decides.
You and I who are voters have the responsibility;
And everyone has freedom of speech to influence the decision.
People died to win and defend these rights for us!
And a year from now, we will have elections for our statewide offices,
for state legislature and Congress. And these are really important.
These people make life and death decisions.
So: you’re on notice! You have a year to get ready.
And realize, there may be elections in the spring
to choose candidates in the fall. This is our responsibility!
In our country, you and I decide who will be Caesar,
and what he will be able to do.
Our government often fails to respect the divine image, in unborn children,
in the elderly, in the poor and outsiders,
in how it deals with other countries.
Our Supreme Court, with supreme, breathtaking arrogance,
gave itself the right to reshape marriage, not after God’s plan,
but after its own whims and theories.
Well, Caesar is in our hands. They answer to us!
You and I have the right and therefore the duty – before God! –
to hold them accountable;
and to protect what belongs to God.
Meanwhile, that applies to each of us.
You and I bear that sacred image of God.
We are his coin; we bear the inscription of his Name,
When we were baptized
in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, of the Holy Spirit!
Like the coins in our pockets get soiled and disfigured, so do we.
If you’re feeling that, I have good news, the best good news!
There is nothing God loves more than to restore his image, in you,
to make it beautiful, to make it shine!
That’s what he does in confession, in calling us back to him.
And I want to remind you, in two weeks
we’ll have a Mission with Father Nathan Cromly,
and he’s going to be reminding us, and teaching us,
about the joy you and I have as God’s sacred image, God’s People.
In the Gospel, they were all concerned about that coin,
bearing Caesar’s image.
But notice, Jesus couldn’t care less about the coin.
What matters supremely to him is you.