Is it driving anyone else crazy how the words “icon” and “iconic” seem to be so grossly overused lately? Every old musician making a comeback is “an icon,” and every quirky film made before 1980 is “iconic.” Well, at least Jesus is using it correctly in the gospel today!
The Pharisees try to trick him by giving him a Roman coin, and asking, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” The Jews despised paying taxes to the Romans. Jesus knows their malice so he asks, “Whose image is this, and whose title?” The word “image” in Greek is “eikon.”
In those days, when a king came to power he would stamp his own image and title on the coins to show that they all belonged to him. So, when the Pharisees say that it is Caesar’s icon, or image on the coin, Jesus has a clever reply. “Then give back to Caesar what belongs to him—and give back to God what belongs to God.” Theologically, though, there is a deeper meaning. Jesus’ words do not mean that God and Caesar are equals. “Humans bear God’s image, and wherever they live and operate—whether in the social, economic, political, or religious realm—they belong to God. Their primary loyalties do not switch when they move out of church and into the voting booth” (W. Brueggemann, et al.).
For years, people have tried to solve “church and state” issues by quoting Jesus, as if we have to choose between being good citizens or good Christians. But Jesus doesn’t solve those issues. He gives us the sacred principle: all God’s children are stamped with the Divine Icon. We must struggle with how our “family relationship” bears on our decisions. Do you feel joyful, knowing you are stamped with God’s icon?
“Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, but is able to see a tomorrow” (Pope Francis, Tweet, August 6, 2017). Have a good week and may God bless you and keep you always in His Love!
Listen to my homily today:
Joyfully in the Lord,
Rev. Msgr. Edward J. Arnister
Pastor, St. Rose Parish