When I was a kid, I really wanted a pair of Air Jordan high tops.
The only problem was that they cost over $100,
and my mom had a rule about shoes.
She would never spend more than $25 on a pair of shoes
because we went through them so fast and really,
she would say, “Really, if you are paying more than $25
for a pair of shoes, you are just paying for the name.”
I didn’t care. I wanted a name brand of shoes.
All the cool kids in my class had Nike Air Jordan’s
or Reebok Pumps.
My mom being the kind soul that she is scoured the aisles
in all the discount shoe places and found an
off-brand pair of “Jordan’s” that had
an approximation of the iconic “Air Jordan” emblem on them.
Just before my freshman year of High School,
my aunt got married, and my new uncle came
to pick me up to bring me shoe shopping.
He did not care about my mother’s moratorium on expensive shoes.
He was new to the family and wanted to make a good impression,
so he was going to pay any difference.
He brought me to a real shoe store,
the kind where $25 might get you a pair of laces.
The problem was, unbeknownst to him,
none of these shoes actually fit my feet.
They were all, at best, about half a size too small,
and none of the ones I liked came any bigger.
But I was going to have a pair of Nikes my first day
of high school if it killed me.
So I lied. I told him the pair I liked best fit just fine.
He purchased them, and he brought me home.
I spent the rest of the weekend before school started
trying to stretch them out so that they didn’t hurt so much,
but nothing worked.
But I would not be deterred.
I wore those Nike high tops to my first day of high school.
I wore them with pride knowing they were name brand,
knowing that they would help bring me to
the inner circle of the popular kids,
and my life would be so much better
because of that little white swoosh on the side.
By lunch my feet were screaming at me.
My blisters had blisters, and I could not wait for the day to end.
When I got home I took off the shoes my uncle had bought me –
those expensive, name-brand, long yearned for,
long desired shoes – and I put them in my closet,
and I never wore them again.
After all that longing, I found myself gladly going back
to my old worn-out off-brand shoes and realizing that,
at least when it comes to footwear,
there are more important things than the logo on the side.
It baffles the mind to think about how much value we attribute to the
images stamped on things.
The Nike swoosh, the Air Jordan silhouette,
the apple with a single bite taken out of it –
these images become symbols of success and
pride and rarely allow us the room to question why.
We find Jesus, in our scripture this morning,
dealing with an issue of such an image.
Once again the religious elite are trying to trap Jesus.
One group wants him to look like a Roman sympathizer
and the other wants him to look like a rabble rouser.
So they ask him: Is it lawful to pay tax to the emperor?
I am sure that we are all very familiar with
what it means to pay taxes and all the different kinds of taxes
that we are obliged to pay.
We are subject to income tax,
sales tax, property tax, estate tax, and many more.
Taxes in Jesus’ day were pretty much the same.
There were taxes that people paid to the temple in Jerusalem in
order to be allowed to worship;
there were taxes paid to the Roman Empire
that were used to pay the soldiers and
governors to keep peace across the land.
There was one tax in particular that the Hebrews
would have had a big problem with,
and that would be the tax that all those within the Roman Empire
were required to pay to the gods of the Roman Empire.
In particular, the Jewish faithful struggled with the tax to the emperor,
who was considered to be the manifestation of god on earth.
It was possibly this tax that the questioners of Jesus had in mind. There was even a specific coin with which this tax must be paid,
and it was a coin with the image of the emperor stamped upon it.
If Jesus approved of paying the tax to the emperor then the Pharisees,
the strictest keepers of the law, would be able to speak against him. Since the coin required for payment
held the graven image of the emperor,
he would be in violation of the second commandment.
In addition, because the tax honored the emperor as a god,
it would put Jesus in violation of the first commandment, too.
Likewise, if Jesus were to answer “No” – don’t pay the tax –
then he would be seen by the governing authorities as
another subversive who needed to be dealt with
before he could disrupt the peace.
They thought they had him trapped.
But Jesus, in his fashion, confounds them by examining the coin
and asking about the name and image inscribed on it.
Whose name is here? he asks. Whose face is this?
When they answer, the only answer available –
“Caesar’s,” he simply responds:
then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
Having Caesar’s name and image on the coin,
in the view of Jesus, demonstrated Caesar’s claim on the coin.
If that coin is what Caesar values, then give it to him. (delitcates)
When we put our name on something we are saying that it
has value to us. We are claiming ownership of that thing.
Think about the things that we put our names on.
It starts early – when our moms and dads would write our names on
lunch bags and inside every piece of clothing we took
to summer camp – that simple act that says:
this belongs to me, and if it’s lost, I hope you’ll help me get it back.
As we grow, that act of labelling and naming goes even deeper.
In our relationships, for example:
Do you remember letting your girlfriend wear your football jersey
or receiving an I.D. bracelet from “Things Remembered”
with your girlfriends name on it?
Or on a much bigger scale – it’s a big act of love and oneness
when two people choose not only to take their vows
but to share a common name.
We monogram our towels and
personalize our phone cases and
do whatever we can to distinguish the things
that we put value on from everyone else’s things.
Even more valuable than the things we put our name on
are the things that famous people put their names on.
As soon as something is endorsed by someone famous,
it automatically goes up in price –
just like the Nike Air Jordan’s.
Nike Air tennis shoes were $60,
Nike Air Jordan’s $120, and the only difference
was that little silhouette of Michael Jordan. It is incredible.
And we buy into it for the most part.
We tend to choose the name brand over
the generic when the only difference is the packaging.
We think: if Michael Jordan or Bobby Flay or the NFL has put their
name and logo on this thing, it must be good. (Gordon Ramsey Toaster)
As much as we would like to think that we are smarter than that,
more often than not, we find our selves choosing
the branded image.
What we put our names on –
and what names and images we carry with us – matter.
That’s why this question, this trap for Jesus,
is such a powerful one:
because of course God does care about the names and
images we carry with us through our lives.
The fatal flaw in the plan of the religious elite to discredit and
debunk Jesus, however, is thinking that God cares about
their shiny bits of stamped metal.
Now I will tell you that there is a message in this passage
to us about our responsibility to pay our taxes.
It’s a part of how we participate in the calling –
as imperfect as the system may be –
it’s about our calling to respect authority and more importantly to
care for one another.
Romans chapter 13 bears this out.
We are supposed to respect the laws of the land in which we live
until they cross the line of making us disobey God.
But I think there is a greater message here that we might miss.
After Jesus tells the crowds to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s,
he then goes on to say that we should render to God what is God’s.
And while some may view that statement as cryptic,
I assure you it is anything but.
For the listeners of Jesus in that context,
this entire conversation is overflowing with meaning.
Jesus tells them to give the denarius to Caesar
because it bears his image.
If Caesar’s image on the coin gives him ownership of that coin,
then we have to see that –
in order to give God that which belongs to God –
we must give God that which bears God’s image.
What is it that bears God’s image?
In all of creation, what has been made specifically in God’s image?
That’s right. You and me.
All of humanity has been stamped with the image of God,
the Imago Dei. And if we are to give to God what is God’s,
then we are to give God nothing less than all of ourselves.
We are the image bearers of God in this world.
Our whole self bears God’s image, and so our whole self –
our whole life – belongs to God.
In our modern culture we like to play games.
We like to compartmentalize our lives.
We have our work lives and our home lives
and our spiritual lives.
Each has a different hat that we wear,
and we act differently depending on which hat we are wearing
and we do our best to not let any of the distinct areas of our lives
cross over and contaminate each other.
But friends I am here to tell you that this just isn’t the way it is
supposed to be.
We can separate our work and home lives.
In a lot of ways that is smart and healthy.
Bringing your work home with you can cause all sorts of problems.
But we are created in the image of God,
created to be image bearers of the divine,
and that is not something that we should be trying to
isolate or suppress.
That is not something that just comes out on Sunday morning.
Every molecule of our existence is stamped with God’s image,
and therefore every instant of our lives, at home, at work,
in our recreation time, and even on vacation,
we are bearing the image of God to the world.
Everything we have, everything we are, is God’s.
A big part of the reason why,
if you look at your life and are not as
satisfied with it as you thought you would or should be,
may be because you are denying who you are in some part of it.
Maybe at work you choose to never let your faith be seen,
or at home you choose to never enrich your faith
beyond Sunday morning.
You neglect to have conversations of a spiritual nature with
those you love and care for because you think those
things are supposed to be private.
Well, stop it! Stop denying that you are an image bearer of God.
Stop denying that God is present and interested in
every aspect of your life.
Stop withholding your spiritual journey from those around you.
Now I am not saying you should become the person at work
who is trying to evangelize everyone.
Or that every single conversation you have has to be about God. I am saying it is time to stop pretending that
God is only interested in you on Sunday morning.
Start sharing your fears and dreams with your family and friends.
Start letting those in your life see that you have struggles and
that your faith helps you.
And, by all means, start letting your faith help you with
One of the biggest mistakes we make is forgetting whose
image we carry, the true brand that is stamped on us.
Our value comes from that image,
from the name that we carry on our selves.
The greatest example of an image bearer of God
doing what an image bearer of God should do is Jesus.
Somehow, between the creation and the coming of Christ,
something happened to the image of God in us.
Through the ravages of sin and time and disobedience,
the image of God in humanity was marred – though still there,
it was tarnished, it was forgotten under the
layers of filth that humanity was coated in.
The life and teachings and miracles of Jesus
were intended to remind humanity of whose
image they were created in, to remind us of the
potential we have as image bearers of God.
The death of Jesus blasted away all of the gunk that
was clinging to and distorting the image of God in us.
And, by our seeking to be like Christ, in our sanctification,
we begin to polish and restore the luster of the image of God
that is unique in all of us.
We begin to realize and access the potential with
which we were all created.
But that cannot happen in a vacuum.
Iron sharpens iron my friends.
We can only realize our potential as individuals
when we are working together in community.
When we struggle and wrestle with our faith and
our understanding of God together.
We are the image bearers of God.
God loves us, and values us deeply enough, to put his image –
his name – on our lives.
We are called to give to God what is God’s…
that means we are called to give God all that we are.
God is at work in the world and at work in you and
it is up to you to make sure that you do not miss what God is doing.
The community of faith is where that happens,
where callings are considered and affirmed,
where compassion is tested, where grief is not borne alone,
where love is practiced and perfected before
it is let loose in the world.
When we come together to remind one another whose image and
whose name is on our lives – when we come to remind one another
who and whose we are – then together, we learn to live and love
and walk as Christ walked, as image bearers of God. Amen? Amen.