The Image of Caesar and the Image of God

6 June 2006: Tuesday of the 9th Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 12, 13-17: The image of Caesar and the image of God

Jesus said in the Gospel, “Show me a denarius.” I think that Jesus did not have money, that is why He asks for a coin as a visual presentation. This shows that Jesus lived simply. Just a thought.

William Barclay gives us an explanation. A denarius is a coin, in which the image of the reigning emperor, this time Tiberius, was on it. All the emperors were called Caesar. Around the coin would be an inscription that the coin belongs to “Tiberius Caesar, the divine Augustus, son of Augustus,” and the reverse will say, “pontifex maximus,” the high priest of Rome. (Pontifex: just as the pope is called the pontiff or priest).

How do the people during Jesus’ time view coinage? First, coinage was a sign of power. When an emperor conquers a nation or the leader of a rebellion succeeded, the first thing that he does was to mind his own coin. Thus, the coin was an official symbol of kingship and power. Second, if the coin is valid, the king’s power remains good. The areas where the coins are valid show the extent of his kingdom. Third, where the king’s image or head are on its coins, the coins are held to be his personal property.

Thus Jesus lays down a very useful principle that preserves the relationship between the state and religion. We have three affirmations. First, the state as signified by its coinage is important. The laws of the state are needed to preserve peace and order. Each individual in a state feels secured. Without laws, we cannot live in peace and harmony or enjoy valuable services pertinent to existence. The Romans have a steady and safe water supply (thanks to the Roman aqueducts), transformation and communication systems (The Roman roads provided this), and its security organization. A valuable benefit during the Roman empire is the peace and security called the Pax Romana. Second, if we benefit from the state, then we have certain responsibilities to it like paying our taxes, following traffic rules, contribute to nation-building and leadership. Third, the coins also show boundaries and limitations. No one is above the law, even the emperor, the prime minister, or the president of the state. Outside the territory of Rome, the coin does not have any power. In the spiritual life, no one has the power over the souls of persons except God. And thus all of life ---- including the state ---- is under the jurisdiction of the divine.

There is a good image: the denarius of Caesar’s image on it, our present coin or paper money has the signature of our president, and therefore our obligation to our country should be held important. However, each individual person is more valuable than money, because the image of God is on him or her. Each person is created in God’s own image and likeness (Gen 1, 26-17). Above all, the Gospel leaves us to a very special crew and the principle: above all other state law is the human being, and thus human rights cannot be violated by anyone regardless of his or her position in government.

The Gospel today therefore tells us a very important lesson: our being Christians should help us become better citizens. Our Christianity should help us build our nation.

*Mirador Jesuit Villa, Baguio City. 8-Day Province Retreat. May 2006.

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