A few weeks ago, I was graced with a new realization – and subsequently a new understanding – of a Gospel passage that I hadn’t really given much thought to up to this point: Jesus’ response to the question about taxation from the Gospel of Luke. If you’re unfamiliar with this passage, it can be found in Luke 20: 19-26, and basically the scribes and chief priests were trying to trick Jesus into getting himself arrested so that he would be out of their hair and they wouldn’t have to worry about him anymore. They equated giving tribute to Caesar to be on the same level as giving tribute to God, and they expected Jesus – who at this point has claimed to be the Son of God on several occasions – to condemn paying taxes. Once Jesus has done so, they would then be able to report Jesus to the authorities, at which point they could have him arrested with little pushback from the crowds that were listening to or following Jesus.
But Jesus recognized their scheme and turned their plot on its head. Jesus has them show him a coin and point out whose image and inscription was upon it. When they respond with Caesar’s image and inscription,
“He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s’” (Luke 20: 25).
Now, there might not seem like there is much to this response, and for the longest time I didn’t give much consideration to it, but let’s take a little bit of a deeper dive just into this one verse.
Picture a coin. It can be any coin. A quarter, euro, pound, any coin will do. For these purposes, I will be picturing a silver Roman coin with Caesar’s likeness on it, as that is what I imagine when I think of this Gospel, but the same things can be applied to most any coin. On this coin there is a side-portrait of Caesar. It is made with the image and likeness of Caesar upon it to show that this piece of currency is distinctly Roman. As such, this coin is used in Rome and all who are subjected to Roman authority to show the greatness and might of Caesar and the Roman Empire.
We are not unlike this coin, and this is what really lies at the heart of what Jesus is talking about in this scripture. Like the Roman coin, we were created in the image and likeness of a higher power: God. Rather than being sealed with an inscription though, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit twice: once at our Baptism, and once at our Confirmation. We are distinctly God’s. Having been created in the image and likeness of God and sealed with the Holy Spirit, we are then sent out into the world to show the greatness of God to all that we encounter in the hopes of deepening our own faith and the faith of those we touch. This is what we’re giving to God: not money, but ourselves – which is really all that God desires.
There was nothing the chief priests or scribes could do. Jesus responded to their questions in a way that they didn’t expect him to do,
“and they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him by what he said; but marveling at his answer they were silent” (Luke 20: 26).
They marveled at his answer and were silent. Even as they plotted and conspired against him, Jesus recognized and verbalized that they were created in the image and likeness of God and that God desired them, and they could do nothing but stand there in awe.
You and I are created in that same image and likeness with that very same God loving and desiring us. Let us ask the Lord for a deeper understanding of ourselves so that we may recognize the areas of our lives that we have resisted giving up to the Lord, and let us offer more of ourselves to Him. The Lord has already given us this gift of life and this gift of love; let’s do the same for Him.