Have you been given a coin with our new King’s head stamped upon it yet? I haven’t, but I have been spotted rummaging through donations bowls in church. To allay any concerns, I am not pocketing people’s generous offerings, but occasionally I search out ‘treasure’ in the form of the special 50p or £2 coins which my sons collect. This year’s mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Tolkien and 75 years since the arrival of the Windrush and the birth of the NHS – all, of course, with an image of the monarch on the back.
A Gospel story tells of the religious leaders trying to trap Jesus by asking if they should pay taxes to Ceasar or not. Coins of the time were stamped Caesar’s image, along with the words; ‘Tiberius Caesar, august and divine son of Augustus, high priest’ – a symbol of tyranny and a religious insult!
Jesus answers; ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s’, neatly sidestepping them, but it’s more than a nifty way out.
Jesus is setting out what each of us must wrestle with in our own time and political context, and acknowledging there are no simple answers to the issues causing greatest turmoil. For the Jews of his time it was how to relate to an occupying power. Sadly, we could name endless problems now confronting that same ‘Holy Land’, while in our own country some issues haven’t changed much in 2,000 years – how much tax should we pay and how should it be used? Or, how do we cope with rising refugee numbers? Or provide homes for people while preserving our countryside? Or stop the destruction of our planet, while not pushing poorer people further into poverty? Endless issues, none of which have straightforward answers.
Jesus gives not a tidy pronouncement but a way to test how we think and live; what do we owe to the state within which we have to exist together, and what belongs to something even greater? Where is the image of God stamped?
I believe that we have, all of us, been made in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27) and so all people belong to God and have an inalienable dignity. So as we seek to respond to any issue, cause or conflict, we should be asking, ‘Am I upholding the dignity of human life?’ That is a treasure for which it is worth searching.
Rev Kate McFarlane