Sunday Scripture: Isaiah 45.1,4-6; 1 Thessalonians 1.1-5; Matthew 22.15-21
“Tell us, what is your opinion, is it lawful to pay the census tax to the emperor or not?” – Matthew 22.17
Pharisees and Herodians ask Jesus whether it is right to pay taxes to Caesar, the Roman emperor who claims to be divine. It’s a trick question. If Jesus says yes, he sides with the emperor. If he says no, Jesus upholds Jewish law to make no images of God nor worship idols.
Jesus suspects the questioners have made up their minds, so he asks, “Whose image is on the coin?” To pay the tax, one needs Roman coins with Caesar’s image on them. His questioners already have Roman coins, so they intend to pay the tax. Jesus answers the trick question with a well-known saying: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” We have obligations to both civil and religious laws.
The trick question involves more than taxes. Jesus also confronts a worldview about who images God — Caesar or the human person. Jesus insists we cannot keep separate our obligations to God and those to government. God blesses and calls us to integrate the spheres of our lives and image the One who made us.
Being made to God’s image and likeness calls the Christian to act as God acts with compassion and forgiveness toward everyone. Christians image God by helping the poor, caring for the abused and sick, visiting the imprisoned, feeding the hungry, grieving with those who mourn, and listening attentively to those who ache. We give to God our very selves through our good actions for others.
We also carry the image of God into the civil sphere of government. Our advocacy for just and compassionate government policies toward the poor, toward health care, education, and immigration are examples of how we image God in the public square. The conflicts and dissent we have with the civil rule can also show God’s image in us. Conscientious objection images a God of peace. Believers who protest the abuse of the environment reveal a respect for the Creator of all that lives. The conflicts of our lives challenge us to ask: Who do I serve? How we image God will reveal our answer.
How do you seek to image God? How do you work for the common good in your local civic community?