Read the Gospel text here: Matthew 22:15-22
Reflections on the Gospel – Matthew 22:15-22 – “The Icon/Image of God”
What no parable? We are taking a break from parables for the next couple weeks. But fear not we still have a few of Jesus’ most challenging and wonderful parables to examine before the end of November. But today and for a couple weeks we find ourselves standing in the Courtyard of the Temple listening in as Jesus is challenged and verbally attacked by various groups – scribes, Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees (just to name a few). In the text for today the questioning attackers are trying a new tactic: flattery, manipulation and seduction. “Oh teacher, we know you are so holy and teach God’s way in truth and purity, please tell us the answer to this important spiritual question… blah, blah, blah.” Jesus does not fall for it, but it certainly would be easy for others to be snagged by this.
The question itself seems innocent enough when it is posed: should we pay taxes to the Romans or not? What is the right thing for a devout and spiritual person who desires to keep God’s law? Except that the question is a trap. If Jesus were to say – “no, you should not pay taxes” – then he would be in trouble with the Romans; and if he were to say “yes, you should pay taxes” – then he would be in trouble with many of the more radical elements of his followers (the Zealots, etc…). This question is a no win question for Jesus. But Jesus does not fall into the trap, instead he turns it back on the questioners by using a very common Rabbinical practice of his day – he answers the question with a question: “Can you show me a coin? Whose image is on the coin?” Jesus need not have said anything else after this. For the simple act of producing a Roman coin within the Temple was enough to discredit and undermine the credibility of the questioners.
Roman coins had more on them than just the head of the Emperor (Tiberius in this instance). There would also have been an inscription that would have read something to this effect: The Divine Caesar, Son of God. For a devout Judean to produce this coin, or have possession of this coin, especially inside the Temple compound was a blatant breaking of the 1st commandment – it was blasphemy. To possess this coin was tantamount to acknowledging another god besides the one God, Yahweh. With this in mind then Jesus’ final, famous, line takes on new meaning: “Render/give to Caesar what the things of Caesar and render/give to God the things of God!” And what actually are the things of divine Caesar who claims to be a son of god – nothing! By contrast, the God and Father of Jesus is the God who created everything that is – so the things of God’s are simply everything that is!
Sometimes this passage is used to justify a division between church and state or a theology of two kingdoms. This is not what this text is about. The text is really all about the image of God. In verse 20, this translation has Jesus ask, “Whose head” in on the coin. But the Greek word (for head) is actually the word – IKON – which should sound familiar. This Greek word has been taken into English as the word ICON which means IMAGE. The question then is “whose image is on the coin?” – Caesar’s. But, whose image is reflected in creation? Whose imagine are we created as reflections of? The image of the one true and almighty God – that’s who! (Genesis 1:27 – So God created humankind in His image; in the image of God were they created; male and female were they created.) And so, if we are made in the image of God what does that say to us about our loyalties and our priorities; what does it say to us about how we are in relationship with others, who are also created in the image of God?
This text is about loyalty and about commitment’ It is about making decisions and setting priorities; it is about recognizing that not only are we made in God’s image but the cross of Jesus is branded on our foreheads in Baptism and so we are an icon or image of Jesus in the midst of this world. And does this make any difference? It should – it should say a lot to us about the way we live and spend our money and schedule our time and so on. So in what ways is your life an icon or image of Jesus?