As Disciples of Christ, 'You and I Are Responsible for This Moment'
...The implication is clear: To be made in the image of God is more than a pious slogan. It’s a statement of fact. Every one of us shares — in a limited but real way — in the nature of God himself. When we follow Jesus Christ, we grow in conformity to that image.
Once we understand this, the impact of Christ’s response to his enemies becomes clear. Jesus isn’t being clever. He’s not offering a political commentary. He’s making a claim on every human being. He’s saying, “Render unto Caesar those things that bear Caesar’s image, but, more importantly, render unto God that which bears God’s image” — in other words, you and me. All of us.
And that raises some unsettling questions: What do you and I, and all of us, really render to God in our personal lives? If we claim to be disciples, then what does that actually mean in the way we speak and act?
Thinking about the relationship of Caesar and God, religious faith and secular authority, is important. It helps us sort through our different duties as Christians and citizens. But on a deeper level, Caesar is a creature of this world, and Christ’s message is uncompromising: We should give Caesar nothing of ourselves. Obviously, we’re in the world. That means we have obligations of charity and justice to the people with whom we share it. Patriotism is a virtue. Love of country is an honorable thing. As Chesterton once said, if we build a wall between ourselves and the world, it makes little difference whether we describe ourselves as locked in or locked out.
But God made us for more than the world. Our real home isn’t here. The point of today’s Gospel passage is not how we might calculate a fair division of goods between Caesar and God. In reality, it all belongs to God, and nothing — at least nothing permanent and important — belongs to Caesar. Why? Because just as the coin bears the stamp of Caesar’s image, we bear the stamp of God’s image in baptism. We belong to God and only to God.
In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells us, “Indeed, religion” — the RSV version says “godliness” — “with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it” (1 Timothy, 6:6-11).
True freedom knows no attachments other than Jesus Christ. It has no love of riches or the appetites they try to satisfy. True freedom can walk away from anything — wealth, honor, fame, pleasure. Even power. It fears neither the state, nor death itself.
The same holds true for our lives. We’re free only to the extent that we unburden ourselves of our own willfulness and practice the art of living according to God’s plan. When we do this, when we choose to live according to God’s intention for us, we are then — and only then — truly free.
This is the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. It’s the freedom of Miguel Pro, Mother Teresa, Maximillian Kolbe, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and all the other holy women and men who have gone before us to do the right thing, the heroic thing, in the face of suffering and adversity.
This is the kind of freedom that can transform the world. And it should animate all of our talk about liberty — religious or otherwise.