Is there someone in your family that you resemble? In what ways do your appearance or actions or choices reflect the people who raised you, people who taught you and people who mentored you?
In this week’s gospel reading Jesus’ conflict with the powers that be continues. This time, opposing groups have joined together, trying to trick Jesus. Beginning with flattering, they ask Jesus if it is consistent with the religious expectations of their laws to pay taxes to the Roman government. Of course, this tax was incredibly unpopular with the crowds since it funded the Roman occupation of their land. If Jesus says yes, the crowds may turn against him. Publicly opposing the tax will certainly lead to trouble with the Roman authorities. The religious leaders think they have found a way to either decrease his popularity with the crowds or get Rome to shut him down. They are probably feeling quite clever.
Jesus also quite clever, and he turns their inquiry around, asking for a coin used to pay the tax. When they show him the coin bearing emperor’s image and divine title, Jesus offers a very wise non-answer: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus sidesteps their trap and begins us wondering just what these words mean for us, his followers today.
Like that ancient Roman coin, we look like the people we belong to; those who have had a hand in shaping us. Sometimes that includes hair color or height, sense of humor or way of laughing. It almost always includes the things we value and priorities we live, our ways of relating to others, how we deal with demands and stress. We are all created in God’s image and our lives reflect characteristics of God like love, compassion, faithfulness, forgiveness, patience, inclusion, and justice. The core of who God is has been stamped on us, like the emperor’s image was stamped on that coin Jesus talked about. Since we are human, we are never going to be perfect at reflecting God, but even our imperfect efforts show who we belong to.
As he avoids the trap in today’s gospel, Jesus also invites his followers into a life of trying to figure out what we owe to the society in which we live. We continually find ourselves asking how we will faithfully engage in political life, reflecting God’s image in ourselves while respecting God’s image in our neighbors and even opponents.