Who do you look like? Who do you favor? It’s one of the first things we ask about newborn babies. Whose eyes do they have? Whose chin? Whose hands or feet? I remember praying that my oldest might resemble me in some small way when we were expecting her. Zanna has my feet by the way.
At any family reunion we compare relatives to one another, looking for similarities. Searching for Aunt Wanda’s nose or Uncle Tony’s hair, we comb the room trying to find what characteristics hold us together, unite us, identify us as belonging to one another.
Where you are a chip off the old block, a carbon copy, or a doubleganger a generation removed, there is comfort in finding a similar trait. Even in adoptive families there is a need to identify with a personality trait or habit that ties you together.
Image has a different connotation in our society. People cultivate their image. They want to make sure that what they present to the world sheds the best light. When we post a selfie online we rarely pic one that makes us look bad. We cultivate, pick and choose, what we will show the world, and what we keep to ourselves. We have family friends in Memphis and Steve often says to me “I wish I had the life Will and Angie have on Facebook.” It’s not their real life, their real life with two full time jobs, one serving a church, and three kids in High school, Junior High and Elementary is complicated, messy and hectic. But the image they have cultivated is enviable.
In our Old Testament lesson reading from Exodus, Moses asks to see God’s glory. He doesn’t ask to see God’s image, that would be too much for anyone to handle, so he asks to see God’s glory. And the image the writer of Exodus gives us is one of Moses standing in the cliff, covered by the very hand of God until God walks past and Moses can see God’s back.
It’s an odd picture, Moses seeing the back of God. What good does it do to look at something from behind? It doesn’t do too much good, unless you are following them, then its exactly the view you need. Moses was going to return to the people and tell them to follow his lead because he was following God’s. Behind God was exactly where he needed to be so that he could follow faithfully.
The Gospel Lesson has Jesus dealing with an image problem as well. He is still in the temple, teaching and preaching. This is still Holy Week and his death is looming large. He has been very clear about the fact that the religious leaders and political leaders of the day were not acting in the people’s best interests. They were not helping the people live the lives God was calling them to live.
This had upset those in power, as speaking truth to power often will do, and so they began to plot to harm him. The Herodians, supporters of Rome, came and stood among the crowds. The Pharisees sent their disciples over to listen. Politics makes strange bedfellows, doesn’t it? The leaders of the temple in cahoots with the biggest Roman nationalists you’ve ever seen, uniting to get rid of this teacher, this Jesus. This guy whose image has gotten to big.
They begin to ask questions in order to trap him in something. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?”
That seems like a fairly straight forward question. It’s a yes or no answer. Or is it?
Jesus is in the Temple, a place set aside for the worship of God. A place where you were to give your offerings, your sacrifices and acknowledge that God has first place in your life. That whole first commandment thing was a big deal.
It was such a big deal, in fact, that you had to change your Roman money for Temple money when you came through the gate. You gave sheckles to the Temple, special coins, not Roman ones. Why? Because Roman money had other symbols on it, other images.
So when Jesus asks what coin is used to pay taxes he is handed a Denarius, a Roman coin. He asks “Who’s head is this, who’s title.” He actually asks “Who’s image is this? Who’s title?”
The people responded, “The Emperor’s” It is an image of the Roman Emperor, with the inscription “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, Son of the Devine Augustus.” A claim of deity. An idolatrous coin, there in the Temple.
“Give to the Emperor what is the emperor’s and to God what is God’s” The Emperor can have his Roman money, it is printed in his own likeness. But what then will be given to God?
Hypocrites, Jesus has called them. Why? Because they are so concerned with image that they forget the most important image.
Genesis 1:27 “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.
God’s concern is not with earthly wealth and the power that comes with accumulating that wealth. God’s concern is for how those with wealth treat the people made in God’s own image. God’s concern isn’t that taxes get paid or tithe’s get paid, but that the people made in God’s image give themselves back to God.
Give to God what is God’s. We are made in God’s image, every one of us, and we are to see and recognize that image in others. But too often we choose instead to see the cultivated image. Whether its one the individual has crafted, like the images we post on social media, or an image that our prejudices have created; we have a hard time seeing past them to the God-image inside.
Sometimes we have such a deep belief in the images other’s share, that we don’t even realize we are blind to God’s image, in us and in others.
A woman told me a story about one of her son’s this week. I’ll call her Laura. Laura and her husband have two biological children, boys, Jack age 9 and James age 11. They love these boys with their whole hearts. Through some interesting circumstances they are also raising two other boys, mixed race, Michael age 9 and Patrick age 11. These boys have made their way into their home and into their hearts. And while they are not biologically or even legally related, they are family.
One day Michael the younger of the boys not biologically theirs, came home upset from school. He had heard another little boy talking about his church and how his pastor had said that God was black. Michael disagreed with the boy. He told Laura “I don’t think God is black. I think God is just regular colored.”
TO this little boy “regular color” meant white. Something he was not, and would not every be. He couldn’t imagine God looking like him, he was other, different, not regular.
This is what comes of praising images that are not God. This is what comes in a world that values what is the emperor’s over that which is God’s. The world becomes a place that can dehumanize an entire group of people because of their skin color, their gender. The world revolves around commodities to the point where even the people we see are reduced to commodities.
Think about it. We rank people’s looks on a 1 to 10 scale. We send aid quickly to one section of the population, but delay sending it to other citizens who don’t have the same voice or power to be heard.
It’s a powerful thing. You and I are made in the image of God. So is everyone else. What might it look like to live into that image? What might it look like to truly give to God what is God’s?