Pharisees, haters of Rome, and Herodians, friends of Rome:
they worked together to crush Christ even unto death.
Two crowds that were against each other— the Roman-friendly Herodians and the Roman-hating Pharisees— teamed up to trap Christ between them.
They hated him more than they hated each other.
So, they carefully crafted for him a harmful riddle with a Pharisee half and a Herodian half.
The Pharisee half: Is it LAWFUL…?
Does God’s law permit?
Then the Herodian half: to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?
If Christ had said God’s law lets the paying of taxes to Caesar (whom Rome honored as a god), then the Pharisees could have discredited Christ in terms of religion and Jewish patriotism.
And yet if Christ had instead said God’s law forbids paying Caesar’s tax, then the Herodians could have said he was stirring uprising against Rome.
But with swift, blazing, mighty wisdom Christ asked to see the denarius coin that was the tax.
It came from Caesar’s empire and bore Caesar’s image and inscription, Caesar’s face and name.
So, Christ said to pay back the face, name and coin that came from and belonged to Caesar— and also to pay back to God what belongs to God.
Now the Herodians and Pharisees were trapped against each other by their own riddle.
The denarius, the name and face it bore all belonged to Caesar, but what belongs to God?
What bears the name and face or image of God?
The word of the Lord in the book of Genesis [1:26,27] tells us.
“Let us make man in our IMAGE,
after our likeness.”
So God created man in his own IMAGE.
In the IMAGE of God he created him.
So humankind owes itself to God.
As Christ said in his Gospel today: to God what belongs to God.
In Baptism and all the mysteries of Christ, God saves and renews us as his image and likeness for the sake of our freedom.
Anointing us with the Chrism of confirmation, God inscribes us with his name, his Spirit and his freedom.
In his Eucharistic Body and Blood, God hands over himself as the tax for our sin, nailing himself to a cross that Caesar’s government crafted, a cross that Pharisees and Herodians yelled for.
The Eucharist that God gives us to eat and drink does not merely bear the image and inscription of God.
It is the very Flesh and Blood of God in Christ.
The Eucharist is God the Son matchlessly and fully paying himself back to God the Father in our image and likeness— because we are unable to do it ourselves.
Today’s Gospel reading ends saying the Pharisees and Herodians were utterly amazed at Christ.
He worked no mighty deed of wonder today.
But only with words of blazing, swift wisdom he mightily shoved them into their own trap.
They were utterly amazed at him.
But you and I within the hour shall take, eat and drink the mighty deed of wonder that is the Body and Blood of Christ.
Shall we not live then as utterly amazed, thankful and obedient?
Turn. Love. Repeat.