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Proper 24A, Track 1 (21 after Trinity, 20.10.02
Exod 3.12-23: Moses sees Godís glory/backside
Ps 99: He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud
1 Thess 1.1-10: Jesus who rescues us from the wrath that is coming
Matt 22.115-22: Ch. priests, Pharisees and Herodians set trap.
Summary: Image as a sign of ownership and sovereignty; we as God's image are to be conformed to Christ's image to God's glory.
1) Here are some coins and notes. What do they all have in common? (Image of Elizabeth) Why? (Her realm)
2) Steve (age 2) and I, back in 1961: Looked at coppers - ĎPetoria, Edward (not many), "Old Man George", "Young Man George", and Elizabeth. Today, because of moving to decimal currency, all in circulation bear image of Elizabeth.
3) USA: All coins and bills bear an image of a dead President, never a living one: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklyn Delano Roosevelt Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, for it is the office of the President, not the incumbent, that is an important symbol of the government.
4) In the same way of showing who owns the joint, so to speak, Kwame Nkrumah, the former despotic ruler of Ghana, erected a statue of himself bearing the twisted inscription, "Seek ye first the economic kingdom". And when he was overthrown, the people took great glee in toppling his statue and smashing it.
5) And today, wherever one goes in Iraq, one is faced with pictures of Saddam Hussein.
6) In India, during the British Raj, statues of Queen Victoria were erected. In South India, in Bangalore, where Dorothy and I worked, the statue of Queen Victoria remains to this day, for they were still grateful for what, overall, the British had done for India.
7) So images are potent symbols of ownership and sovereignty, and they have been so for thousands of years. Ancient rulers in the Middle East, for example, erected statues of themselves or inscribed pillars in every province to show that they were its owners and rulers.
8) Now we are ready to look at todayís gospel, a story that is in Mark and Luke as well as Matthew. In Markís gospel it is the chief priests, the scribes and the elders who send Pharisees and Herodians to trap Jesus in what he says, but here in Matthew it is different.
For Matthew it is the Pharisees themselves and their scribes who are the real "baddies", for they are preventing all those good Jews from the synagogue across the street, so to speak, from acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah and becoming his disciples. So in Matthew it is the Pharisees themselves who send some of their disciples along with the Herodians to set the trap. The Pharisees represent a very pious and intense lay reform movement in first century Judaism, while, on the other hand, the Herodians were apparently supporters of the rule and policies of Herod Antipas, who ruled under the aegis of the Roman Empire.
Now, to start with, they put Jesus on a pedestal: "Teacher, you are true and teach the way of God and care for no man."
And then, they throw in the question that they believe will pull him down. "Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not?"
If Jesus says it is lawful, then he will lose the support of all the Jews who bitterly resent the domination of their land by the Roman Empire.
If, on the other hand, he says it is not lawful, the Herodians can report him to the Roman authorities who will arrest him.
Jesus is fully aware of this, and he puts them off their stride with the demand that they show him the money used to pay the tax. They themselves bring him a denarius, a small silver coin. That is, they are not averse to handling it and using it in transactions to buy and sell goods. Now Jesus counters their question with his own question: "Whose head is this, and whose title?" Actually the Greek used is not kephale, "head", but eikon, "image". Just as this is the icon of Our Lady of Kazan that Miroslav Alexeev gave to Dorothy and me.
The disciples of the Pharisees have no option but to reply, "The Emperorís".
And now Jesus gives his answer to their initial question: "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperorís, and to God the things that are Godís".
They are not puzzled; they donít say, "Yes, but..." They donít try to ask him another question. Instead they are left speechless. They are simply amazed, so they leave him, and they go away.
Why? The answer quite simply lies in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1, verses 26 to 28: "Then God said, ĎLet us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness... So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them."
If the coin belongs to Caesarís realm, then all humankind belongs to Godís realm. If the coin is a symbol of the gamut of the Roman Empire, then we, as the mobile, peripatetic image of God, are the symbol of Godís ownership and sovereignty of everything that we encounter, no matter where it may be throughout the universe. If the image on our coins indicate that they belong to the realm of Elizabeth II, then we, as the image of God, and everything that we shine on belong to God, which is what Reg Bott was emphasising two weeks ago.
As St Paul expresses it, you and I are to be conformed to the image of Christ, who is the supreme image of God, and it is our task in all things to give expression to Godís Kingdom, to his gracious reign of love that he has made known in and through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is the calling that is set forth in todayís gospel.