I love it when a baby is born and there is a scramble to identify family images in the child. Whose nose does he have? Whose eyes does she have? And as the child grows it’s interesting to watch certain mannerisms that begin to develop from both sides of the family. As parents it’s lovely watching your child develop and even seeing yourself in your child in looks and behaviour. Certain images and behaviours are passed down from parents to children though genetics. Likewise, as human beings, we also bear the image of our Heavenly Father. In the book of Genesis when God created human beings it says: “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26,27)
Jesus uses “image” today to make a distinction regarding who we are and to whom we belong. The Pharisees have joined forces with the Romans to try and catch Jesus out and to see who he affiliates with. They ask him whether it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus asks for a coin and then asks them a question about the coin. Whose image do you see on the coin? They answer – “Caesar’s”. And so Jesus says – give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar but give to God what belongs to God. And just as the coin bears Caesar’s image – we bear God’s image and that means at times in our lives we need to make a decision about our actions and how we honour God’s image in our lives. Our central defining characteristic, what it is that makes us human beings, is that we are created in the image of God. At our baptism we are further marked, we are sealed, we are inscribed, with the sign of the cross. Our image and likeness, and what is written upon us, is that of God himself. To whom, then, do you belong? To whom are you to render yourself? This question of our ultimate loyalty and our deepest allegiances is what Jesus is talking about as he deals with the plots and the traps of his enemies. Jesus is saying that what belongs to God is nothing other than our very lives. There is no higher claim upon us. This will at times help us when we are confronted with problems with a particular moral or political question. It does not automatically tell us who to vote for, or what policy to support, or which course of action is best regarding the personal issues that confront us.
Problems will be difficult and ambiguous at times. Give to God what is God’s—for God owns that which he has made in his image, and he is Lord over that which bears his inscription. It is that image, in ourselves and in others, that leads to actions for justice, compassion, and righteousness towards God’s image in our neighbour. We love our neighbour as ourselves because we both bear God’s image. And that image is borne by all – not just Christians. Non-believers – those who follow other religions – bear the image of God and we owe a responsibility to show our love to God by loving all people.
And that image is never lost whether they reject God, whether they can no longer serve God as they did. From the cradle to the grave – from newborn to senior – we all bear the image of God. It is that image that both claims our allegiance and directs our actions. It is God’s image that gives value and meaning to what we do and who we are. It is that image, and no other, which gives us the assurance that we belong to God and no other. It is why in Baptism we reject the devil and all his works and all his ways and declare our allegiance to the one true God – the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Often we can’t answer the questions that confront us by looking through the Bible to find a clear answer. There is no easy way at times to determine the will of God. And sometimes we can have two people with differing views who can both be right and it becomes a question of conscience. The burden of making responsible decisions will often fall on us and challenge us. And what makes it more difficult is that we are sinners. We are biased and critical; we prefer to take the easier path; We know what the right thing to do is but we are afraid to go against the crowd and avoid making hard choices. As Christians created in the image of God we are joined with Jesus and we share in his love and take on his way of looking at the moral dilemmas that challenge us. The question we ask in those times is, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” And sometimes we might not like the answer that we get back. Jesus constantly shocked his disciples and those around him in the choices he made as he reflected the will and image of his Father. When he came across a woman caught in adultery, instead of quoting the Ten Commandments to her, he befriended her and said, “Your sins are forgiven”. When he met the cheating Zacchaeus, he loved him and went to dinner with him. To those who were exiled from their community because of the dreadful and infectious disease of leprosy, he showed compassion and gave them acceptance and value. The word that summarises Jesus ministry is “love”. Love of God – love of neighbour. It is love that bears the image of God. We are called at times to make decisions about some tough questions in life. But we do so with the knowledge that God forgives us when we make mistakes in our decisions. It is a comfort to know of the forgiving love of God, otherwise we would be frightened to make any decisions at all. And we are called to share that same image with others by forgiving them as we have been forgiven. Because of his love for us God can still bless us and the decisions we make even if those decisions weren’t what God was expecting.
In today’s gospel Jesus doesn’t give us rules but the permission to struggle with the question of what is appropriate for us to do in the world that God created. Jesus challenges us to seek out the will of God as best we can and go forward entrusting the choices we make into the hands of our loving and forgiving God. For his accusers it was an either or situation. They thought loyalty to God and to one’s government were mutually exclusive. But it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes the will of God is also the will of society. But it’s when there’s a conflict against our faith, like when Peter was ordered to stop telling people about Jesus. He responded: “We must obey God rather than any human authority. (Acts 5:29) In those situations we have to ask ourselves: What is of God? What is of Caesar? At the moment we have several issues facing us in society such as the marriage and euthanasia debate and there is much conflict. The coin that bears Caesar’s image belongs to Caesar. But we humans are stamped with the image of God. We belong to God. We can pay the tax, but we do not belong to Caesar. It may sound like a choice between two equals — God and Caesar. But they are not equal. We bear God’s image whether we are child, youth or senior. We bear God’s image whether we are student, unemployed or retired. Wherever we are — at work, school, politics, home, sport or wherever, our loyalty is to God and that governs how we think and act in the world. And even though we may be conflicted and confused at times we are guided by the command – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength – and love your neighbour as yourself.