It is the second part of that sentence that is most instructive. By getting us to hold and study the little denarius coin stamped with its image of the Emperor, Jesus pushes us to make the necessary next connection. This is to the creation story in Genesis: “So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God God created them; male and female God created them.” The coin might be Caesar’s but we, ourselves, are God’s.
Something in the way I have heard this today gives me a big sense of relief. I have been working very hard during the past several months, studying to be a spiritual director, teaching classes, doing little jobs for the church and writing icons. Finally, around two weeks ago, I got really sick with the flu. I spent nine days in and out of a feverish state, sleeping most of the time. I’m finally, just now, beginning to get my legs back under me. And what I am finding is that I want nothing more than to just be. I want to sit in the sun, watch the geese glide, honking, across the sky, listen to good music and weep at inspired stories.
We are, in fact, little icons of God, carrying the image of the Creator stamped on our souls. Each of us wondrous, complex, mystifying humans points in our very nature to the author of the cosmos. It is not in what we do that we are God’s; it is in who we are, in what we “be”. Each breath we take, each thought we have, each feeling we express reveals to any who have eyes to see the fingerprint of the Holy One.
We easily get sidetracked by duty. The coin of the realm is hard work. We have to get ahead in the work place, accomplishing the tasks set for us so that we can provide for our families and save up for our retirement. Our financial planners tell us what is enough, and the magic amount that would give us security seems to recede away from us into the distance year after grueling year.
It is good for us to remember that the little tribute coin we focus on easily becomes an idol. The most important thing in the work place or in any other place is not the job we do but one another. Alfred with his funny glasses and crooked teeth, Betty with the little red mole between her eyebrows that she always tries to cover up, Sally with her obsessive-compulsive attention to detail, Thomas with his booming platitudes – all are icons of the most Holy God, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139).
Give to God what belongs to God – and that is our very selves. If that seems to beg the question of whether or not we pay taxes, I think that is what Jesus intended. The complicated moral and ethical understanding out of which we make any decision to act must be based on this one, central truth: people belong to God. We are holy, not to be wasted or thrown away.
We are each precious, not because we do the right things but because we are made in the image and likeness of God. There is a huge permission in that understanding; it allows us to occupy all the moments of our lives. May we find the joy in each one of them, even as we see the precious, vulnerable, beautiful reflection of God in one another. May we see how blessed we are, how special, even as we live into being the blessing God desires us to be.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer living in Fort Collins, Colorado. For more about her and some examples of her work, go here