"Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions, forgetting the image of God we should see in each other." (http://bbc.in/2yzpTh2) George W. Bush, on Thursday 19 October 2017 in New York.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness .... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
I’d like to thank President George W. Bush, a member of the United Methodist Church, for his comments providing insights into today’s gospel lesson. For he speaks about the image of God, and what is due to it, wherever it appears, under whatever guise, and his initial comment, too, exposes a real tyranny of the superficial that we see linked to an easy judgmentalism too often.
Indeed, the opponents, or crafty interlocutors, of Jesus, are up to something very like what the former president decries in his remarks given only last Thursday in New York. They sought to put Jesus in the very worst light and themselves in the best. We often do this casually; they did it with intent. They are not alone.
So to the lesson. Jesus, in context, is teaching in the Temple during the days leading up to Passover, and responding to the challenges of the established religious parties. Who in turn, it must be said, feel challenged by him! Even as Pontius Pilate was marching into the city from the Jaffa Gate (as conquerors do, then and now) the Lord entered by the Lion Gate on the far side of the town. Jesus rode down the hillside through olive gardens, as we know, and the people greeted him as he arrived, the very picture of the ancient desire of his people, the anointed one of God.
Anointed, it should be said, to do God’s purpose. Anyone, even Cyrus, the Persian king, could be “God’s anointed” in the sense that he was called to do God’s will. For Cyrus, to free the people of Israel from foreign bondage by an oppressive empire. Huh. In his case, Babylon.
Come to think of it, the Herodians and the Sadducees and the Pharisees and the Romans themselves had reason, deep reason, to be perturbed by this “messianic” arrival.
God accomplished his purpose through a foreign king, Cyrus, and now through a Galilean, from a town of small note, Jesus of Nazareth.
The challenge begins, on the day after Jesus’ triumphant arrival in the Temple (Palm Sunday).
Is it lawful, or not, to pay taxes to the emperor?
Show me the coin.
And on that coin is the image of Caesar, surrounded by words of power: Son of God, Prince of Peace.
To use it is to worship him, in some sense; certainly to accept his hegemony.
But what are they themselves doing with that coin on the Temple mount? You know it would have to be exchanged for a Temple special coin to make an offering in the Temple. But there they have it.
So whose eikon, whose image, is this?
And then he gives his enigmatic, challenging riposte to their question.
Render - that is, give back - to Caesar what is his own, and to God…
Here is where George W. Bush comes in, if we follow him to the end of his sentence.
We too often forget the image of God that we should see in each other.
There it is: what belongs to God? Where is his image found - today? In you and you and you and me.
In each other, and those far from us, in miles or attitudes, or deeds or beliefs.
Them at their worst, we at our best - but those with best intentions, even at the center, are not enough. We are all in the circle - the circle of the love of God, of the making by God, of those stamped with his image.
The imperial coin, the Roman coin, has an image of one self-styled great; Caesar. Let there not be another.
For we are receiving the mark of the presence of God, the love that he bears for us and we are called to bear as we look upon each other.
That is the image of God, the mark of the Christian: the undeniable stamp of one who is loved, by God, and one who loves another even as they love themselves.
How we carry out this love in the world, how we show the stamp of that image, is the next challenge.
Are we up to it?
October 22, 2017
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:35)