Not long ago I had the privilege of attending Mass at a Franciscan Monastery, the Saint Clare Monastery. This monastery had a beautiful and relatively new chapel, and across from my pew was a stained glass window with the words, “He who is like God.” It was a window with the image of St. Michael the Archangel and Michael means one who is like God. But before seeing the Archangel all I saw were the words and I took it as a question, “Who is like God?” Answer: you and I are like God, and we find this answer in the Bible. In Genesis (1:27) it’s written, “So God created man in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” You and I are made in the image of God.
In today’s Gospel we hear about images, the first one being the image of Caesar on the Roman coin. The Pharisees and the Herodians are trying to be clever. They want to trap Jesus by trying to corner him into a catch-22. These two groups the Pharisees and the Herodians are neither friends nor allies of each other. They despise each other. The Pharisees are religious patriots, bitterly opposed to Roman rule, whereas the Herodians are content to work together with the Gentile powers that be. This present uneasy alliance is made solely for the purpose of bringing down the Messiah. They want to entrap him and get him out of the way. They think their question, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” has only a “yes” or “no” answer. If Jesus answers, “yes, pay the tax” the zealous Jews would run from him, and they had come to regard him as the Messiah. Jesus would no longer have a following. If Jesus answers, “no, don’t pay the tax” the Jewish priests of the temple could have the Roman soldiers arrest him for trying to overthrow the government. With either response the Pharisees and Herodians think they can discredit Jesus and be rid of him. Jesus would cease to have any influence.
However, Jesus is wise to them and doesn’t answer their question with a simple “yes” or “no.” He confounds and frustrates them when he holds up the coin and asks, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They must answer that Caesar’s image is on the coin. Jesus then says something that has been quoted a million times throughout the centuries, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Paying taxes, giving back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, brings us roads, a school system, police and fire departments, a society of law and order and everything a good government should provide. As Christians we have a duty to be good citizens and to fight for and promote a good government based on our faith.
The second part of the quote is a little more difficult, Jesus was looking at the crowd, made up of men and women, when he said, “Repay to God what belongs to God.” The coin has the image of Caesar so giving it back to Caesar is easy, but where do we find the image of God? And this brings us back to the stained-glass window I saw in the St. Clare Monastery with its question, “Who is like God?” We are like God. We’re made in His image and like the coin that goes back to Caesar; we’re to go back to God because we’re made for God. We give ourselves to Him, by spending our life getting to know Him, by loving Him, and by serving Him. And at the end of our life, we hope to finally join Him in Heaven.
Here on earth, there are two dimensions of going to God. First, there is the worship of God where we strive to give ourselves to Him totally with our whole heart, soul, and mind. At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist at the offertory the priest says, “Pray, my brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” We’ll say it this way to remind us that the priest stands in the person of Christ. When the priest says “my sacrifice” he is saying it as Christ. Everyone in the assembly also participates in that sacrifice because of our baptism we are all a member of the mystical body of Christ. We join our sacrifice to His sacrifice. So, we bring our gifts, both our material and spiritual. We bring what we have and what we are, and we acknowledge that it all comes from God, and it all belongs to God. So, we give it back, we bring Him our lives, our sorrows, our joys, our sufferings, everything we are and offer them in union with the sacrifice of Christ. We give ourselves to Him totally.
The second dimension of going to God is the giving of ourselves to God through the service to others. Because others are also made in the image of God, and we serve God by serving them. All of us are expected to give ourselves to our neighbor, even the one who seems unlovable. Maybe, all we can do is pray for them but whatever we do for our neighbor, good or bad, we are giving to God.
As images of God, we have the opportunity to build God’s kingdom, because we can bring God’s kingdom into all the places we enter; the Church, the home, the workplace, the school, and even the town square with its voting booth. Building God’s kingdom, giving ourselves to God, can’t be kept within the privacy our home, it must be everywhere. Don’t make faith a private matter.
The 16th of October is the feast day of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and I want to end with a quote of hers:
God gave me to understand that one cannot better show one’s love for him than by loving ones’ neighbor for love of him; and that I must work for the salvation of others, forgetting my own interest in order to espouse those of my neighbor, both in my prayers and in all the good I might be able to do by the mercy of God.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley