When I was going into the 8th grade, my mother took me to get a pair of shoes for school. This was the year of the “earth shoe”. Everyone had a pair of these nasty looking shoes, but they were the new image of what was considered cool. So I went right to them as I entered the store. My mother, on the other hand, didn’t follow me, as she went to where the leather loafers were. I walked over to her with the pair of shoes I wanted and she said: “No, you are getting these loafers because they are better and will last a lot longer.” I made a fuss and began to dispute her like all teenagers do. I stated my case as to what was in style and how important it was that I had these shoes to reflect the image that I was cool. She then hit me over the head with the heel of the leather loafer and said “no”, because she knew what was best for me and I needed to settle down and listen to her. She said the leather loafer would be in style a lot longer than the earth shoe. I didn’t believe her but had no choice. As that year went on, I wore my loafers to school and what I noticed was that all my friends who bought earth shoes eventually had to get new shoes because the earth shoes all began to fall apart. But my loafer lasted until I grew out of it. My mother was right, because that loafer is still in style today.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus was put in a tough situation. The Pharisees and the Herodians were trying to find a way to trap Jesus because He was upsetting the status quo of their way of life. Even though these two groups had different viewpoints about paying taxes, they had a common enemy in Jesus. They needed to find a way to get Him arrested for either agreeing with the Pharisees, who were against paying the tax to Caesar because on the Roman coin it stated that Caesar was god and this would be idolatry, or the Herodians who were in favor of the tax because they saw the future of Judaism in the Greek culture and the benefits of being part of the pop culture. So they figured He had to make a choice and whichever choice He made, He would end up choosing sides and be convicted one way or another.
Here is a bit of needed context. In those days the Pharisees, who were purist, never used the Roman money. There were moneychangers so that people could exchange the Roman coin for the type of currency used by the Jews. This allowed them to keep with the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” The Pharisees would never have a Roman coin, so when Jesus asks to see a coin, it must have come from the Herodians. He immediately reveals whom their allegiance is to, and so it makes them guilty of idolatry, or in today’s terms would be success through economic gain and materialism. When He says: “Pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” He calls out the Pharisees that we can’t separate ourselves from the world either.
When I was reflecting on His next statement: “Give to God what is God’s”, I was trying to figure out what is God’s that I have to give? Then it hit me. Since all of creation is God’s, then we cannot separate ourselves from the world, but are called to be in the world. If the coin used to pay the tax had the image of Caesar on it, then where could the image of God be found to give God what is God’s? The image of God isn’t a man-made object. We are to be the image of God because we are created in God’s image. This image isn’t in God’s physicality, but the image of God’s heart, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness, God’s compassion and abundant grace. Therefore we are sent to be the image of God to the world. What does that image look like? It looks like Jesus. So when we stand up for those who are being oppressed either through racism or being bullied, we give to God what is God’s. When we choose to spend our money wisely for the common good or to help others in need, we give to God what is God’s. When we obey the laws, such as don’t kill, don’t rob, don’t steal, we also are giving to God what is God’s. When we don’t agree with the system that is oppressing others or is unfair, such as labor laws and human rights, but do it peacefully without harming another, we give to God what is God’s.
It’s so easy to fall into the traps of what is the right image we need to reveal. Whether it’s the image of what is cool at school or the image of an American Patriot or the image of what a Catholic looks like, we all want to have the right pair of shoes, metaphorically speaking, so we can go to sleep at night. But I know I need to be hit over the head time to time, like my mother did with that loafer, to be reminded of the truth and Whose image I am revealing to the world. If the image I’m revealing is something other than Jesus, then maybe I need to change my shoes.