Our scripture this morning comes from Matthew 22.15–22. Please stand for the reading of the Gospel.
The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
This might be a familiar passage for some of you, a scene where Jesus is questioned about whether or not the people should pay taxes to Caesar or not. The young disciples of the Pharisees have been sent to trap Jesus in front of the supporters of King Herod, a strategic leader hand-picked by the Roman government. Depending upon Jesus’ answer, they’ll know very quickly whether or not they have tricked him into condemning himself before either his followers or the authorities. Either way, the plan is to ruin his ministry and to have him arrested.
Their argument seems air–tight: if Jesus says to pay taxes to the Emperor, he’ll loose the support of his followers and his potential followers; if Jesus says not to pay taxes, he’ll make himself out to be a trouble-maker and conspirator against Rome. It appears to be a no–win situation. And that’s when Jesus gives them the unexpected. He tells them to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to give to God what belongs to God. In short, Jesus is saying that if the coin has Caesar’s face on it, then it clearly belongs to Caesar and so give it to him.
It is at this point that most of us in today’s world try and make this passage about taxes, politics, and loyalty to either God or government. But I want to challenge that today, just as Jesus did then, and say that this is not a passage about taxes, politics, or loyalty. This is a passage about the image of God.
Jesus asks the Questioners before he gives his great one–liner, “Who’s face is on this coin?” That question sets the tone for the deeper meaning Jesus brings out in his statement, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Therefore, if the face of Caesar is on the coin and it belongs to him, then what is God’s coin and what is it that belongs to God? The answer is you and me. Because man and woman are made in the image of God, it is humanity that bears the face of God to the world. Each of us represents God’s riches, presence, and authority in the world. It is His likeness that each of us bears and it’s His inscription written on our hearts and therefore we are His—God’s coins.
If we belong to God and if we are His coins, then we must give ourselves back to Him. As we render what is Caesar’s back to Rome, we also render what is God’s back to God and His kingdom, giving back ourselves. Caesar wants money and power for himself, whereas God wants relationship and salvation for all. If we will give ourselves back to God in discipleship, we will truly store up treasures in heaven as soul’s are redeemed through Jesus Christ’s work in us. Each of us, as valued members of God’s kingdom, bring value to the people of this world and in turn enlighten them to the fact that they, too, are made in the image of God and bear His presence to the world.
But, if we become preoccupied, as the Pharisees were, with the things of this world, we will subject ourselves to selfishness and vain personal gain. The Pharisees were missing out on the blessing of being God’s people, the blessing of being ruled by a gracious and loving God, but instead they were ruled by their bitterness toward Rome. It begs the question today, “What are you replacing God’s blessing of relationship with today? What are you holding on to that is more important than bearing God’s image and love to your children, your family, your neighborhood, and your workplace? What are you preoccupied with and distracted by that keeps you from enjoying a relationship with God?
Whether we are consumed with our own image, like Caesar, or consumed with what we don’t have, like the Pharisees, we can be freed from our sin and re-joined to God by simply claiming what we see in the mirror everyday—the image of the Almighty God. Your value and worth are found truly in God and God alone. Jesus’ ultimate message to the Pharisees was to give no concern to what Caesar asks. Simply give to the emperor what belongs to him and serve God with your whole self, the self that is made in God’s image.
Like a coin, God has stamped His image on each of us and has sent us out as currency for salvation. Through us, the sons and daughters of God, salvation is available to all. Invest yourself in the lives of others, reveal to them the image of God in you and in them, and give to God what is God’s. Do not worry about the things of this life, because they will come and go. But you will forever bear the image of God by virtue of being His beloved and chosen sons and daughters. Remember: the coin belongs to Caesar but you belong to God! Amen!