Whose Image? Whose Title?

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one, for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this and whose title?” They answered, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed, and they left him and went away.

Scripture Reading
Matthew 22:15-22 (NRSV)

This Short Sermon titled “Whose Image, Whose Title” is From Professor Revelation Velunta, New Testament and Filipino Culture from Union Theological Seminary, Dasmarinas, Philippines with a few additions of Rev. Jospeh.

Coin collectors highly value the denarius in the photo. It dates back to the time of Jesus. Most historians think that the denarius the Pharisees and Herodians showed Jesus as described in Sunday’s lection most likely comes from the same series. Most of us know the dilemma Jesus faced when he was asked the question abot paying taxes to Caesar. On one hand, the Pharisees (who resisted Roman Occupation) probably expected him to say NO. On the other hand, the Herodians (who supported the Roman supported Herodian dynasty) probably expected him to say YES. 

Jesus tells them to show him the coin for the poll tax, the denarius, and asks, “Whose image is this, and whose title?” 

They answer, “The emperor’s.”

One side of the coin has the image of the emperor and reads, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the Divine Augustus” while the other side reads, “High or Chief Priest.” That coin, my friends, was an affront to (first century common era) Israelites (or the Jews of Jesus’s time). It violated at least two of the Ten Commandments. Let us not forget that the titles “Son of God” and “High Priest” were only ascribed to Jesus many years, actually decades, later. They were originally ascribed to the emperor.

Then Jesus says, “Give back therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Render unto Caesar what he owns. What bears his image. His property. But never, ever, render unto Caesar what he does not own: people. People are not property. People are not commodities. But most importantly, do you know why God despises graven images and false titles, like what that coin symbolized? Because God has already created God’s image. God already has a title for them: God’s sons, daughters, (and children). People. Everyone! Especially those we think are not children of God. Everyone! Especially our Palestinian sisters and brothers! And if Rev Joseph may add, God’s image includes us, LGBTQIA+ Filipinos. Everyone are created in God’s image and there is no other better and true image of God than you and me. We. All of us. 

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