Often I see two kinds of people on the UB campus getting in people’s faces:
The first are: Radical Fundamentalists: Yelling at people things like “Have you taken Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?”
The Second group are: Angry Atheists. They tell things like: “How in the world can you believe in the big lie? There is no God.”
And when I read the gospel today I could picture Jesus standing in the UB Student Union because he’s in the same situation.
He’s with two similar groups of people.
There are the Herodians, Jews who don’t believe in the afterlife and who have aligned themselves with Caesar–an atheist.
And then we have the Pharisees–the religious fundamentalists of the day.
Now the Herodians want Jesus to say paying the census tax is unjust so that they can report to the Roman authorities that he’s gone too far. And the Pharisees want Jesus to say that paying the tax is fine so they can say Jesus is supporting their oppressors.
These two groups have collaborated here to trap Jesus. And it’s no different here on campus where the same thing happens.
And some days I feel trapped between fundamentalism and atheism…and my tendency is to throw my hands up in the air and dismiss them both.
But Jesus shows us in this gospel how we can be set free.
He asks: Whose imprint is on this coin? It is the obvious imprint of Caesar.
His message is in fact an opportunity to ask these groups to look beyond the surface. Caesar might print his image on every coin in the Roman Empire…
But God’s image is on each and every human heart.
Don’t we all sometimes forget that? I know I mostly miss it when fundamentalists or atheists make me angry and make me forget that God’s imprint is on them too. I can’t choose to follow either one…but I can’t dismiss them either. They are made in God’s image just as much as I am.
The message that Jesus wants everyone to hear in the gospel is that It’s pretty easy to see Caesar’s imprint on a coin, but It’s not as easy to see God in each and every person that we meet.
Throughout our lives we’ll are be faced with a choice between two things and we won’t want to choose either one. And Jesus reminds us that when we have two impossible choices, we have to look into the deep recesses of our heart and ask us where God’s imprint is moving us to respond with deep love.
A great example: Maybe we don’t like any of our political officials. The republicans all corrupt, the democrats are all power hungry…
But maybe God is calling us to see where we need to stand up for injustice and Occupy Wall Street. Or work for the poor to combat urban blight in a soup kitchen or to deal with the problem of neglect amongst the elderly.
Jesus reminds us that sometimes we don’t have to choose anything half-heartedly—but rather we can respond to any difficult situation by seeing where God is imprinting himself
I think that’s what it means to be a Christian. It’s not memorizing all the laws like the Pharisees and it’s not falling into hopelessness and despair and believing that nothing lies beyond this human experience like the atheists.
No, the true sign of Christian faith is being able to see God…everywhere.
And in everyone.
Maybe that’s why we come here–because we need to be reminded of God’s image when we miss that in our everyday lives. And at this altar Jesus shows us His image in this Eucharist so that we see not just bread and wine but rather the body and blood of Jesus. We don’t just see a cross of death, we see new life that God offers beyond it.
And we hope that experience changes us so we can see God everywhere.
So let us pray that this week that as we walk through the student union, or wherever life may take us, maybe even among the atheists and the fundamentalists, who often challenge us, let’s pray that we can see God in all things and respond with love to the choices that we are called to make.
And if we do… maybe, just maybe…they will know that we are Christians….by our love.