Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
In very simple terms, the coin that was used to pay Caesar’s census tax, had Caesar’s image and inscription upon it. And so, with perfect innocence and shrewdness, Jesus could say in no uncertain terms: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”
The difficulty for the Pharisees and the Herodians was that they were so caught up in the entire framework of Caesar that they were unable to live in any other way. They couldn’t separate themselves from the world of Caesar; and they were unaware that they had been enslaved to it, in the first place.
The Pharisees couldn’t recognize the superficiality of the Roman Coin, because they valued what the coin symbolized. Objectively, that coin was nothing more than a piece of metal, with an image and inscription on it. But in their hearts, it was the means through which they experienced the world.
They bought things using the image of Caesar. They sold things using the image of Caesar. They quantified the work of people—even the value of people—using the image of Caesar. They were indebted to Caesar through that image. They lived by the good graces of Caesar. Everything revolved around Caesar.
The situation is frighteningly evocative of the Book of Revelation, which speaks of both the small and the great, both rich and poor, slave or free, who can neither buy nor sell anything unless they are marked with the sign of the beast.
Both the Pharisees and the Herodians were stuck in a mediocre life of mere coping with the world of Rome and Caesar, and they couldn’t envision any other way of living. They had become such collaborators with Caesar they even tried to destroy the Kingdom that Jesus preached using the Roman Empire itself.
But the Kingdom of God, where Jesus Christ is Lord, can never be conquered by Babylon whose days are always numbered. A finite Roman Empire can never smother the infinite majesty of God’s dominion.
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar…” “Be detached from Caesar”, Jesus seems to say to them. “Let it go.” Time and again, Jesus tried to console his disciples—to set them free from the demands of a secular world: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"
"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these… If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"
"Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”.
But the Pharisees and Herodians had closed their hearts to Jesus. The world of Caesar was the only world they knew. They could not let it go. I couldn’t help but recall the song Let it Go from Disney’s movie, Frozen. You might remember it: the protagonist is named Elsa, who was blessed with this ability of to control ice, frost, and snow. But she wasn’t able to give release to that ability within the confines of her normal day-to-day life.
But there comes a point in the film where she’s able to break free from the rigidity of her society and enter into a larger world. Throughout the film, she continues to grow in her understanding and acceptance of herself, her family, and her society, but that scene in which Elsa experiences real freedom for the first time is a beautiful one. The animators skillfully conveyed an almost childlike joy in the face of Elsa when she’s finally able to unleash the gifts that she possessed.
Now, more than any coin that bears the image of Caesar, we each bear the image and likeness of God. That’s how God created us. While image was tarnished by Original Sin, by God’s mercy, that image was restored by Christ.
When we were baptized, the metal was transformed into gold, metaphorically speaking. When we receive Confirmation—and many will be receiving that sacrament today—we are once again sealed in that image. Those are the very words used in the celebration: “be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”.
And so, we who have been initiated fully into the church bear the very image of him, whom we receive in the Eucharist. That is the image is Christ, not the image of Caesar, that is upon our souls. Our own greatness can’t be stifled or extinguished by a secular society. We are God's currency in the world. So, let us give to God what belongs to God; and live out our true worth in the world.
May God bless you.