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Matthew 22: Whose image do you bear?

Lynne Baab • Wednesday October 7 2020

Matthew 22: Whose image do you bear?

The Pharisees often tried to trip up Jesus, “entrap him in what he said,” according to Matthew 22:15. In an incident late in Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees send some of their own disciples to him. These disciples butter up Jesus with some florid compliments, then ask him whether or not it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor. This was a divisive issue at the time in occupied Israel.

It was impossible to give an answer to that question that wouldn’t anger someone, and Jesus knows that. He asks them to show him the coins that were used to pay the tax. They bring him a denarius, which had the head of the emperor on it. “Whose image is on the coin?” Jesus asks. “Whose inscription?”

They reply, “Caesar.” Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (You can read this story in Matthew 22:15-22.)

Whose image is on your face, in your hands and the way you use them, woven into your entire body and your very being? We use Genesis 1:26-27 to argue that all humans are made in God’s image. In Jesus’ brilliant teaching moment he does two important things: he masterfully diffuses a conflict that the Pharisee’s disciples were trying to set up, and he teaches something important. Being made in God’s image, Jesus indicates in this incident, helps us understand that our whole beings – heart, soul, mind, strength, body, spirit, soul – belong to God.

Give to God what is God’s. Give your life to God. Give each day to God. Give your mind, eyes, ears, heart, hands, and feet to God. Obey God with your whole being.

Jesus’ powerful teaching also illuminates the central reason why Christians were the force behind the anti-slavery movement, and why we are called to engage with anti-racism today. All humans are made in God’s image. All people are precious in God’s sight.

I suspect that many of us don’t spend a lot of time pondering the implications of the words we say so blithely, “human beings are made in God’s image.” I suspect that if we took those words more seriously for ourselves, we would honor God with more parts of our lives in a spirit of service, gratitude, and joy. I suspect that part of the reason why we sometimes find it hard to work for racial justice is that we have a hard time believing deep down that all humans really are made in God’s image.

God who created us in your image, thank you for Jesus’ creativity as a teacher. Thank you that he slipped in a lesson for all of us when he responded to an antagonistic question. Help us to see your image in ourselves, as hard as that is, and help us to see your image in others, especially in people who are different than we are in some small or large way. Thank you for the Holy Spirit’s power to help us and shape us. Amen.

(Next week: Matthew 27 and the question of Judas. Illustration by Dave Baab: me, reading. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

Need a boost in challenging times? Do you find it hard to navigate both sadness and gratitude? Check out my book, Two Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian Life, which encourages us to hold grief in one hand and gratitude in the other. It guides us into experiencing both the brokenness and abundance of God's world with authenticity and hope, drawing on the Psalms, Jesus, Paul, and personal experience. It is available for kindle and in paperback (80 pages). 

I wrote another travel blog post about our journey south from Auckland, called "Hamilton, New Plymouth, Taupo and the journey to Napier."

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