Commentary on the Gospel of
The dynamics of today’s encounter of Jesus with the disciples of the Pharisees and some Herodians are as instructive as the issue itself of paying taxes to the emperor. One thing that is remarkable is the questioners’ hypocrisy, as they start by flattering Jesus, who calls their bluff: why you hypocrites... show me a coin. The Pharisees were purists and purists were not supposed to carry with them Roman currency, though they would keep it at home to pay their taxes. But the most striking element of the encounter is Jesus’ masterful answer ?Houdini would have admired it: give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, a statement most of us would have no difficulty accepting, since people do pay taxes, abide by zoning and building codes, vote to elect leaders. It was the second part of Jesus’ answer that makes people balk: give to God what belongs to God.
An interesting detail in the first part of the answer is the fact the Jesus’ reply is prompted by the emperor’s image being carved in the coin. If we recall the creation narrative, we are reminded that God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him [Gen. 1: 26]. We are reminded that we bear God’s image in ourselves. If we bear God’s image, we belong to God and we must give back to God what belongs to God. We are called to return ourselves to God, whose image we bear, and to help others to return themselves to God, whose image and inscription they also bear.
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