As I read Matthew’s gospel (22:15-21), I wondered what the Pharisees were thinking as the scene unfolded. Once again, they attempted to trick Jesus into saying something which would make Jesus appear to be a troublemaking insurgent. The Pharisees were prepared to do whatever was necessary to discredit Jesus before the people and before the governing Romans. They wanted to be rid of Jesus once and for all. On this occasion, they posed a question regarding taxes: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If Jesus advised them not to pay what the Romans demanded, he would place himself in political jeopardy. If Jesus told the people that they must pay their taxes, he counseled them to pay homage to a false god -the Roman emperor- by offering this monetary sacrifice. Once again, the not-so-crafty Pharisees underestimated Jesus. After he asked to see a Roman coin, Jesus posed his own question: “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” When the Pharisees answered, “Caesar’s,” Jesus told them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God…”
Some time ago, I visited an exhibit which featured ancient coins from more than a thousand years before Jesus’ time. In spite of the coins’ age, the images etched into them were still visible. I could certainly appreciate the workmanship of the artists who fashioned them. It amazed me that three millennia since their creation, the artists’ touch remained. This entire collection of ancient artifacts gave me reason to pause. Brothers and sisters unknown to me used these coins throughout their daily lives just as I use the pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters that linger at the bottom of my purse today. I wondered what museum patrons three millennia into the future might think of the coins we will leave behind. Unlike the ancient coins I observed at the museum that day, our coins display both images and the words, “In God we trust.” I wondered if the letters will be visible even a few hundred years into the future. I wondered if evidence of our faith in those words would remain intact as well.
We humans are an irascible lot. We continually find ways to dull the images which give us direction in this life, especially when those images lead us to destinations not of our own choosing. The Pharisees offered Caesar’s coin to Jesus in spite of the fact that they resented Caesar’s tyrannical rule. The Pharisee’s preferred being in league with Caesar’s pagan regime to aligning themselves with Jesus. Following Jesus’ teaching would have turned their world and the temple hierarchy upside down, and the Pharisees simply weren’t ready for this. Because they wanted to remain “in charge” and in power, they let go of the very God who had once inspired them to pursue their life’s work. When things don’t go as I hope, I find myself impatiently wringing my hands and fretting as well. Because I want to make things right when things go amiss, I struggle as the Pharisees did. I can’t to let go of my need to be in charge, so I fail to align myself with the words etched into my coins: “In God we trust.”
As I consider the events of today’s gospel, I recall another reference to an “image” in the Old Testament. Genesis 1:27 tells us, “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” If only the Pharisees had remembered that the God of Jesus is the very God who created them in the Divine Image and who inspired them to serve in that image just as Jesus did. If only I would remember the same when I find myself entrenched in worry, fear or sadness. These troubles and more will touch all of our lives at one time or another. It is at those times that we must remember that we, too, are created in God’s image. It is the image of God etched upon us and within us which gives us reason to trust.
Loving God, the image you impressed upon us so long ago is worn and hard to recognize these days. So it is that we ask you to renew your handiwork and to impress yourself once again onto our hearts and our souls. Make each of us a shining image of you. In God we trust, Lord. In everything, we trust in you.
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