Lent provides a great opportunity to spend more time being with God, and in turn recognizing who we are and what God asks of us. In Matthew 22:15-22, the Pharisees are trying to entrap Jesus again, this time with a question on taxes. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” Jesus is well aware of the tax revolt going on at the time and if he answered "yes," he would lose favor with the Jews due to the burdensome taxes, and if he responded "no," he may be charged with sedition by the Romans. Jesus was too smart for that and much too wise to pass up an opportunity to teach something profound. Instead of taking sides and responding to the trap, Jesus asks for a coin, and the readiness to provide one proved the Pharisees use and acceptance of Roman administration. He asked whose image was on the coin and when they respond, “The emperor’s,” he tells them to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are God’s.” So Jesus has shrewdly raised the stakes of the discussion and turned the tables on the Pharisee's plans to trap him. How so?
The reference to the image on the coin is the key since the coin must ultimately belong to the one whose image is on it. However, the second part of his response was to render unto God the things that are God’s. If the material coin is Caesar’s because it bears his image, what then bears God’s image that we should give to him? From the beginning, God let's us know that it is us who are made in the image of God and we belong to God. Dorothy Day once said, ‘If we rendered unto God all the things that belong to God, there would be nothing left for Caesar.’ What Jesus is asking is for us to trust and give ourselves completely to God and his plans for us. In the end, he knows that holding back provides no gain to us but only keeps us from the only path that is true, real, and brings meaning and peace in our lives.
To most of us, letting go and giving ourselves completely to God will sound both scary and too much to ask us to do. And it is. It is too much to ask and too much for us to do alone, without God’s strength and grace. But with God, anything and everything is possible. All of us are most likely guilty of wanting to follow our own plans and running out lives independently – it is the human condition. When we search for God in our own way, we tend to look through the limits of our own imagination and create God in our own image instead of the other way around. To know who we are, God’s plans are often quite the opposite of our human instincts - we have to die of self to really live, we have to give everything we have to receive the abundance of his plans, and we have to humbly give completely of ourselves in self-sacrificing love to receive true love ourselves.
How does this help us to know who we are? If we are made in his image, how does that give us an idea who God made vs. the false self we often protectively cover ourselves with? We can look to how God reveals himself instead of how we imagine God. God reveals himself in the Word (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.”) Take time this Lent to be with the Word to see God has he reveals himself. God reveals himself through the incarnation of Christ – real, tangible, and human. Jesus gives us the opportunity to see God as a community of love in the Trinity. This lets us know that we are called to relationship, to love and not to go it alone, as our fiercely independent tendencies would believe. Jesus teaches us by word and example God’s mercy and love, and that we can only know ourselves through a sincere and complete gift of love to others. Giving ourselves, as Christ, completely to God does not make us slaves but truly free royal sons and daughters of a Father that loves us unconditionally. Next time you meditate on the prayer Jesus taught us the “Our Father,” remember that the first word is “Our.” We are first and foremost, a real child or a loving Father who is waiting with open arms for you at this very minute. Think about that image.