Readings: Isaiah 45:1, 46; Psalm 96; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b; Matthew 22:15-21
Beginning with flattery (what the Irish will recognise immediately as plámás), Pharisees and Herodians question Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar. If he says 'pay' he is in one kind of trouble, if he says 'don't pay' he is in a different kind of trouble. Instead, and as usual, he takes the ground from beneath their feet and changes the basis of the question completely. Whose image is on the coin to be paid? Caesar's. Then give Caesar what is his. And give God what is His.
Sometimes this has been taken to mean that human life and affairs can be divided between a realm that belongs to Caesar (the state, political matters) and a realm that belongs to God (the Church, religion). But there is something wrong about the idea that there might be an area of human life that does not belong to God. And Jesus endorses our suspicion by what he says. Not explicitly, but very clearly.
If whatever bears the image of Caesar belongs to Caesar then whatever bears the image of God belongs to God. What is there that bears the image of God? If the image of Caesar is found on coins, where is the image of God to be found? We know from the Bible that it is the human being that bears the image of God. So it is the human being that belongs to God. And this cannot mean only some parts or aspects or activities of the human being, it must mean the human being in his or her entirety, in all her activities and relationships, in all his projects and commitments. It must mean also each and every single human being since no distinction is made: each and every one is created in the image and likeness of God.
It is a supremely clever answer. While seeming to divide human affairs between two masters Jesus does exactly the opposite, relativising our loyalty to 'Caesar' while acknowledging it, making it abundantly clear that such loyalty is always within a deeper, more all-embracing, and transcendent loyalty, that which is given to God alone. Give to God what belongs to God: in other words, everything.