Written by Sr. Rosemary Finnegan, O.P.
Readings from: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/060220.cfm

If you’ve ever known a coin collector, you know they make a hobby of understanding every part of a coin -- the size, where it’s from, what it’s made of, how old it is, what each word and image means.  To understand our Gospel today, it helps to know a little about the ancient view of coinage.  For instance:

  1. Coinage was a sign of power. When anyone conquered a nation, the first thing he did was issue his own coinage.  That was the final guarantee of kingship and power.
  2. Also, where the coin was valid as currency, the king or emperor’s power reigned. The geographical area that used the king’s coins was his domain.
  3. The Roman coin had an image of the emperor’s head and proclaimed that the emperor was divine. This clearly offended the Jews.  Any pagan imagery used on coins violated the Jewish rules against making images and idols.    But since they had to use these coins in their daily dealings, the way they got around not violating their law was to not even look at the coin.

So it was not without a bit of cleverness that Jesus even asked his questioners to bring him a coin.  This alone caught them off guard.  Then Jesus demanded that they look at it.  As soon as his opponents identified the image and inscription as Caesar’s, Jesus had his response which was, since the coin belongs to Caesar, it should be returned to him.

What can we learn from this incident?

First, Jesus points to the primary significance of God’s kingdom.  He reminds all of us of what really matters – returning to God the things that belong to God.

Second, the coin had Caesar’s image on it, so it belonged to Caesar.  We have God’s image on us; we are created in God’s image, so we belong to God, every single one of us no matter our nationality, race or gender.  In these very troubling and painful days in our country, we can’t forget that basic principle of our faith, of our humanity, and we should act accordingly, with respect and compassion.

Third, when Jesus says “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”, how do we do that?  How do we choose to give back to God and reflect God’s image?  By our words and deeds, we give God the glory.  By our kindness to others, forgiveness, and sharing of goods to those in need, we reflect the image of God whom we serve with loyalty.

Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”