To read: Mark 12:13-17, Romans 12:1-2
I got a new credit card this morning in the mail. It is white with silver lettering. The horse and chariot of Wells Fargo gallop across it above an American Express logo. It certainly looks pretty and somewhat majestic. It even has one of those space agey computer chips on it to remind me that the world of Star Trek is but a breath away.
But the interesting thing about this credit card, from a historical standpoint, is not what image is on it but what image is not. For millenia the various governments of the world have proudly stamped their image on our money to remind us of their sovereign authority. Instead mine now has a corporation’s logo on it. There is probably a PhD thesis to be written about the fact that corporations’ images now line our currency instead of politicians’.
Be that as it may, after I went to activate my new card online, I realized my old card had a balance. So in one or two clicks I paid it off and cleared my debts, giving to Visa that which belonged to Visa, giving to Wells Fargo that which belonged to Wells Fargo.
It was a fitting practice to perform right before returning to Mark 12 where a second group takes a stab at trying to trap Jesus in his words. The Chief Priests, who I wrote about yesterday, were very forward, almost blunt. The Pharisees, living up to their reputation, are much more conniving. They try flattery first to get Jesus feeling comfortable before they blindside him with a question. I enjoy the CEB’s interpretation of the verse:
“Teacher, we know that you’re genuine and you don’t worry about what people think. You don’t show favoritism but teach God’s way as it really is. Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay taxes or not?” Mark 12:14
I have no idea what favoritism or teaching God’s way or genuineness has to do with paying taxes and Jesus doesn’t seem to either. Jesus also seems to know what Minna Antrim would later say, “Between flattery and admiration flows a river of contempt.”
Seeing right through them, Jesus asks for a coin, refers to Caesar’s image on it and blandly says, “So then give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Put more simply, “Pay your bills. Clear you debts and then give everything else to God.”
I wrote a couple weeks ago that the image of God is written on us. After all we were created in it. So when we sacrifice ourselves to God, we give to God that which belongs to God. We are the currency of God’s kingdom, a kingdom without money but nevertheless with great power.
But Jesus’ reply also looks forward to his own crucifixion, that moment where he became a dead sacrifice, completely sold out to God’s mission and God’s kingdom. On the cross, a very Roman and very Caesar cross, Jesus gave us the ultimate example of one who gave to Caesar that which belonged to Caesar and to God that which belonged to God. Jesus became our currency.
The Pharisees were hoping to trap Jesus in treason, a feat the Chief Priests later accomplished through the clever use of the word and metaphor of “king” before Pilate. But the Pharisees’ clever question in the temple only succeeded in foretelling that which was coming, the moment when Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” would give back to God that which belonged to God, the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.
But we, who also bear God’s image, would do well to remember that the cross doesn’t exactly let us off the hook. Remember our call is to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus, becoming living sacrifices who are no longer conformed to the patterns and images of Caesar or Wells Fargo or Visa or Master Card and their worlds but are transformed by the renewing of our minds into people who know and do God’s pleasing and perfect will.
Dear heavenly father, we who bear your image give ourselves to you again today that we may know and follow your perfect will for us.