My theology professor told me about an ordination gift he received when he was ordained a priest in Connecticut. It was a painting about the size of a standard letter. Small but powerful because it was a picture of Jesus as a Palestinian man. But that’s not all; on this little canvas, there were what looked like 100 faces of Jesus all from different cultures. My professor knew Jesus was not a 20th century Anglo American; however, when he saw Jesus’ face in all colors and cultures, he was mesmerized. It was a transformative moment for him
When we think that our image is the only image that matters, Jesus comes and disabuses us of that thought. Today I would like us to consider why image is so important to how we see ourselves, others, and the world.
Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s. On the surface this seems clear enough. The crowd including both Pharisees and Herodians was asking a simple question: is it lawful to pay taxes to Rome?. The Pharisees were opposed to paying taxes to their pagan oppressors and the Herodians had a vested interest in keeping the Roman taxes paid. Clearly it was lawful to pay taxes by Roman standards, but was it lawful under Jewish law. Jesus asked for a coin and in a our translation asked what face and title were on the coin, The coin was a silver Denarius with Caesar’s face inscribed on one side. Now the image on the coin is against Jewish law which prohibited graven images. These coins with Caesar’s image could not be carried into the Temple because it was considered sinful. This gave rise to the money changers in the outer courts of the Temple who would convert these pagan coins into Temple coins. If Jesus speaks against the tax, He would anger the Herodians and could be charged with treason against Rome; if He spoke in favor of the tax, He would be alienating most of the crowd that followed Him. A dilemma that He avoided by His response render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. If we look at the original Greek a much deeper meaning is revealed. The word render can also be translated as “give back.” The word translated as face is the Greek word “icon” which translates as image and a more faithful translation for title is “likeness.” So Jesus is saying give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s after all it is his coin. But then give back to God what is God’s. What is God’s that we are to give back to Him. We find the answer in Genesis 1: 26-27 which says “And God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,’” and goes on to state “God created humankind in his Image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Just as the coin has Caesar’s icon (image) on it, so it is Caesar’s; we are made in the image and likeness of God, so we are God’s. What does it mean to be made in the likeness of God? We all look different – different colors, heights, sizes with different features. Think of the many paintings depicting God and Jesus. No one can agree on what God and Jesus look like; artists usually depict God and Jesus in their own likeness. Historically God has been portrayed as a bearded patriarchal figure, as an aged white man. Jesus appears as a light-skinned European man. These images were spread around the world by European colonialism and American expansion. So what is the image of God? What is His likeness? His image is an image of love; His likeness is one of peace, of joy, of justice. We are all created in His image and His likeness; we are all part of His creation and all of creation belongs to Him. Even Caesar was made in His image no matter how despotic, tyrannical or narcissistic Caesar may be. The theologian Wadell states “Every person who has lived or who will ever live manifests something unique of the goodness and beauty of God (even Caesar). So each of us is a sacrament – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual Grace.” So Caesar is still made in the image of God. How we chose to reflect that image depends on us. Paul calls us in his letter to the Philippians to put on the mind of Christ: his attitude, his behavior, his love, his forgiveness, his compassion. We are to reflect Jesus to the world. We should so live that people see Jesus in us. And perhaps it works the other way as well – that we can see each other in Jesus.
I had a vision of a faceless Jesus.
No eyes, no ears, no mouth, no color.
And as I watched, faces appeared.
I saw –
The face of the leper who returned to give thanks,
The face of Paul blinded by the light,
The faces of Mary and Martha, contemplative and worker.
There was a rainbow of faces.
Black faces –
Martin Luther King
Brown faces –
Every color, different features, all humankind
The Dalai Lama
Saints, sinners, martyrs.
Would I see you?
Would you see me?
I had a vision of a faceless Jesus.
We are made in the image of God and we belong to God. We are reflected in Him and He in us. We become His eyes to see justice done; His ears to hear the tears of others; His mouth to speak of peace, love and joy. In answer to the question, raised at the beginning “What are the things that are God’s which we are to give back to God?” the answer for each and every one of us is, “You”.
May we see the image of God in each other: an image of love, the likeness of peace, justice and joy.