I remember in junior high school getting a brand new baseball mitt, only to have it stolen out of my P.E. locker the very next day. It was eventually recovered, taken off of a kid who had written his name, letter by letter across the back of the mitt as if to reaffirm his ownership. The rather ostentatious claim to ownership notwithstanding, the mitt was mine.
Such is the claim made by Caesar (Tiberius) in today’s gospel. In Jesus’s famous dictum: “Then render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s, ” he avoids the tricky situation of answering the question of the Herodians and Pharisees as to whether or not it is in accordance with the Law to pay the tax required by the Romans of all citizens. If Jesus answers “no” then he will gain favor with the people, but commit a treasonous act and punished by the Romans. If he says “yes” he loses favor with the people, and affirm he supports the Roman occupation. Instead, Jesus suggests that the coin’s temporal worth is owed to the temporal leader, Tiberius Caesar and that God is entitled to what is His. Of course, what is God’s is also “stamped” with God’s image: humanity.
The coin might belong to Caesar, but Caesar belongs to God. What we lay claim to so often has our image, in one form or another, all over it. But likewise, all that we are should have God’s image revealed. In Acts 17, St. Paul proclaiming in the Aeropagus defends Christianity to the philosophers by proclaiming “In him [God], we live and move and have our being”; as even some, your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.”
St. Augustine’s sermon on this passage from Matthew develops this idea:
“Just as Caesar seeks his image in your coin, so God seeks his image in your character. Give back to Caesar, he says, what belongs to Caesar. What does Caesar look for from you? His image. What does God look for in you? His image”(Sermon 113A).
What we possess is God’s image as our true character; we are the coinage of God, each and every one of us, ultimately rendering our lives back to God, having either spent God’s currency wisely or foolishly. God's currency, of course, is love. This is our true wealth and is inscribed indelibly as God's image. When we love, we gift others with God's wealth and, in turn, render unto God what is God's.