I don’t write many checks anymore; most of my bill paying is done online. However, when I do, I have yet to have an establishment deny the check. It’s amazing, really: here is a 3x6-inch piece of paper, with my name, my bank’s name, and my signature on it, and it is worth whatever amount I write on it (assuming that I have the funds in the bank). Basically, this check is worth $52.17 simply because I say it is (and the bank, of course, agrees).
Much of the value attached to things in our lives comes from what we assign to it – from our monetary system to a timeworn teddy bear. How much we cherish something dictates how we treat it. And, our care for someone guides how we love them and what we expect from them. This is true of us because it is true of God. This weekend, we are recalling another important truth of our relationship with God – who loves us, forgives us, and now calls us.
Our First Reading gives us the prophet speaking to King Cyrus of Persia – a non-believer – as the Lord’s anointed. This is significant, since the word "Messiah" means anointed. King David, Israel's hero, is "the Lord's anointed," as is Solomon. In Greek, it is translated as "Christ." Cyrus has been chosen and called by God to be a special player in the salvation of Israel. After Cyrus and his forces conquered Babylon, the Persians allowed the Israelites to return to their homeland – God working again through those whom He calls.
This is our God – a God who loves us. He has created us all in His image – marked us with His seal, the very life of the Trinity – and through that image we come to know Him. Jesus, the Son of God, the Word-made-flesh, reveals God to us in a unique and final way. He also reveals to us our true selves. If we want to see who we are called to be, we must meet and know Christ; we must look to Him.
In the Gospel, as the Pharisees and others seek to trap Jesus in yet another conundrum, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach us something truly profound. “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” He asks. The tax coin bore an image of Tiberius Caesar and an inscription that read “Tiberius Caesar, exalted son of the divine Augustus, high priest.” It was minted by and for Rome, and it was the only acceptable payment of the tax to which they were referring. They certainly wouldn't take a check!
While the leaders’ question was meant to trick Jesus into either favoring the occupying government or endorsing financial rebellion, He actually ignores the question at heart and changes the focus to images. In other words, if the coin bears Caesar’s image, then it belongs to Caesar. The tax is, in effect, Caesar "calling" his coins back to himself. However, other things - things that belong to God - are meant to be given to God. So, if we bear that image of God, then we owe ourselves to Him!
But what do we owe? This is not something that we ourselves determine. We must listen to God to hear what it is that He calls us to be. When we were created, God had a beautiful plan in mind for our lives – a plan that is meant to see us be fully alive and happy with Him. Because of His great love for us, God has chosen us for great things – just like He did Cyrus, just like He did Paul and his companions. We are all made in God’s image in order to show that image to others in our world and to remind them of the great things to which they too are called.
We call this “calling” our vocations. It is what we were made to do, what we were made to be. At the very heart of it, however, we are called to reflect that image of God in each of us. “Repay … to God what belongs to God,” Jesus tells us. We bear His likeness when we resemble more closely that face of Christ.
Remember: God calls you. He calls you to a special purpose at this special time. Most of us assume we are doing what God has called us to do; however, we can strive to know that ever better if we focus on this person of Jesus – if we share a real, personal relationship with Him. He is the one, after all, who is calling us. Therefore, we should dedicate ourselves even more to time spent in prayer. Take time to talk with Jesus; ask Him what His will is for you; pray for the grace and courage to be able to do that will more boldly in your world.
Second, we must remember that we are above all called to be holy. Holiness is not a pursuit of the few, the “saintly.” It is the call of every one of the baptized. When we are more fully who God calls us to be we are that much closer to holiness; and that holiness becomes a sign to others.
Finally, we are called to be a community of faith. We are not simply loners on this road to holiness. We share in the communion of Saints, and we taste that most fully here on earth at the Eucharistic table. When we come here, we join our voices and spirits together in support of the Body of Christ, and we are all nourished to be strong in following the will of God – that special call that we’ve each received.
Don’t forget: God has called you. He continues to call you. He has placed His special mark on you because he cherishes you and values you above all other things. Open yourself to make good on your payment – because it is the most important investment you’ll ever make, and God will be happy to cash your check for you.