The dilemma posed by the “entrapping” people in the Gospel episode for this Sunday (Mt 22:15-21) is not only illusory, it is treacherous. They concoct a cockamamie scenario intended to trip up Jesus so as to expose him as the fraud they presuppose him to be. For them, the case they pose constitutes an irreconcilable contradiction. “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” However, the fact that it involves two diametrically opposed groups — the Pharisees and the Herodians — joining forces in an unholy alliance here against Jesus Christ is proof positive of the premeditated malice motivating their actions (“Knowing their malice…”).
What’s at issue: “The Pharisees would oppose the tax on the religious principle of not commingling with the Gentiles, whereas the Herodians would approve of it because it enhanced the delegated authority of their favored petty king [Herod]” (E. Leiva-Merikakis).
The real issue
But the real issue is this. Sometimes we look for excuses for alleging that living the Christian life is simply not feasible in the given day and age. We’re at pains to justify the compromises we have become accustomed to. Christianity, we think to ourselves, is a great ideal and all, but when it comes to really living out what the Gospel teaches with authenticity and integrity and faithfulness, it’s just not possible. We succumb to fatalism. For we are victims of our culture, after all. Everyone knows that there are insurmountable obstacles at work in the world which prevent us from ever living out the Gospel. It’s not our fault — that’s just the way things are, and we can’t do anything about it. We have no choice. Sure, we can aim for high and noble things, but we can’t be blamed if we don’t reach them. Caesar/the world demands things of us that remain forever at odds with God. There are some quandaries in life that even Christ can’t change. Etc. So goes the woebegone thinking.
How brilliant it is that Jesus says, “Show me the coin that pays the tax. Whose image is this?” And immediately they produce a coin bearing the image of Caesar. To solve their self-made “predicament,” they need to take stock of how they are made. Jesus is inviting them and us to look at the other image — the image that we are.
To be a human being is to be created in the image and likeness of God. A true image is one that resembles whatever is imaged with respect to its highest perfection. By virtue of the fact that the human being is an image of God, the human being has the ability to partake in the very life and happiness of God. And nothing created and finite can stand in the way of that … unless we permit it.
Human beings are created with the capacities to know and love their Creator. “We should look for the image of God in the very acts of those operative capacities or powers” (R. Cessario). Human beings have been divinely appointed with authority over all earthly creatures — including the “creature” which is this trumped-up problem. The image of God in the human being lies precisely in the gift of our free will. The image of God [is in] the power humans have to act on their own, in mastery and moral responsibility” (S. Pinckaers). Which means we can take on the enigmas of life with the understanding, wisdom, and conviction of heaven, enabling us to discern, decipher, and decide in keeping with the divine design.
Living the Image
Faith is a way of knowing. Nothing that lives within the will of God is beyond our grasp to carry out if we dedicate our free will in obedience and trust to divine providence. Being the image of God graces us to know God and love God in a way that surpasses our natural capacities. We are not victims; we are not put upon. We are called upon to live in glorious freedom, confidence, supernatural courage, and grace. “Freedom is what human beings are” (S. Pinckaers). Pope Benedict XVI imagines God saying to us: “I have created you in my image and likeness. I myself am love and you are my image to the extent that the splendor of love shines out in you, to the extent that you respond lovingly to me.” Living the splendor of that love overturns even the seeming impossibilities of the world. Let’s respond lovingly to every conundrum with the very confidence of Jesus Christ. “Christian, remember your dignity!” (St. Leo the Great).
And follow his series of brief reflections on prayer here.