Through his teachings, Jesus was becoming a threat for both of them. So, they manage to come together to get him. And what better way is there than to ask him about taxes - something that everybody has to pay but everybody detests! As if to answer this question, St Paul would tell the Romans, years later, “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor”. Everybody knows that a just tax-system is necessary for every society to function well. The Christian has to give a good example even in this. But Jesus chooses not to address the issue. He does not fall into their trap. Instead, he asks about the image and inscription which are on the tribute coin, the denarius. On one face of the coin we can find the image of the Emperor Tiberius, with the words “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus”. Caesar considered himself divine, a god. And that’s how he wanted others to see him. We remember that many martyrs of the early Church died precisely because they refused to venerate the emperor as god. They knew there is only one God, and their choices were made accordingly. When Jesus tells the people to give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God, he is not talking about taxes or tax-evasion. He goes much deeper than that, and is asking the people (and, therefore, us) to do the right choices in life. Essentially, he is asking us: who is your God? Whom, or what, do you worship in life?
The fact that Caesar’s image is imprinted on the coin implies that the coin belongs to Caesar. It does not belong to us. The image we have imprinted in us, on the other hand, is the image of God. Speaking of this kind of facial recognition, the Jews would have immediately recalled the quote from the opening verses of the bible when God created us in His own image. That is the image we have imprinted in us. And therefore, it is to God that we belong.
Giving to God what belongs to God is what we did in our baptism. There we died for the world and offered our lives to God. With our baptismal promises we made a commitment to live the rest of our lives according to God’s wishes.
Jesus’ invitation is still very relevant to us today. Like the people in Jesus’ time we, too, have to choose which God to serve in our lives. The idols that might want to allure us in life can be many: money, work, self-image, ambitions. As Christians, we belong to God because His image is imprinted in us. Let us give God what truly belongs to him. If we want to see what the image of God looks like, Jesus’ words come to our help when he told us “whoever sees me sees the Father”. So living up to God’s image simply means living the same kind of life that Jesus lived - a life of total, self-giving love.
Let us live up to the image that is imprinted in us: God’s own image.