Sunday, October 16, 2011

Clear Image

Latin scholars will remind me: Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, "All Gaul is divided into three parts"--the opening line of Julius Caesar's memoir of the Gallic Wars, and one of the first things any budding classics scholar has traditionally learned to translate.

Historians (especially of the Biblical sort) will remind me: Julius Caesar (100 B.C.-44 B.C.) was not the emperor to whom Jesus was referring in the Gospel; that was Tiberius Caesar (42 B.C.-37 A.D.).

Now that we have THAT all cleared up...enjoy the story!

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

Among the regions conquered by Julius Caesar was Gaul--
that part of Europe we now know as France and Belgium.
By the time the Christian era began,
the Gauls were supposedly under the empire’s complete control,
but this warlike people never much liked being conquered…
…which just might explain their frequent uprisings.

In due course, Christian missionaries ventured into Gallic territory 
and--over time--began winning converts to the faith.
The legend goes that,
whenever a newly converted warrior was baptized,
he would hold one arm high in the air
as the rest of him was dunked under water.
The missionaries soon discovered the reason
for this quite curious practice.
It seems that, when the next battle or skirmish would break out,
the warrior would proclaim, “This arm was not baptized!”
and, grabbing his club or axe or sword,
then ride off to destroy his enemy
in a most unchristian manner.  (cf. M. A. Powell)

I can’t be sure that this story is historically accurate…
(and being of French extraction myself, I kind of hope it’s not)
…but there’s no doubt that the point it makes is true.
How often we try to hold back some part of ourselves
to be kept free from the effects of our baptism,
free from the influence of our Catholic faith.

There are lots and lots of ways to spin the story
which we hear in this Sunday’s gospel:
that it’s about obeying government authority,
or the proper use of money, or the separation of Church and state.
To get hung up on the details and read it in any of these ways
is, in a sense, to get caught in the same trap
which the Pharisees set to snag Jesus.

When Jesus asks for a Roman coin--
and we shouldn’t miss the humor here
that his questioners are able to produce one while he cannot--
Jesus’ question is very simple:
Whose image is this, and whose inscription?
After they’ve pointed out the likeness of the Roman emperor,
does Jesus then ask for another coin--
this one bearing the image of God--
to drive home his point about repaying both Caesar and God alike?
No…for the very simple reason that no such coin existed.
You see, Jewish law forbade making an image of God--
on a coin or anywhere else--
because God had already stamped his own image
on one very particular part of creation: on human beings.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.”
So we read in the very first chapter of the Bible (Gen 1:26).
What a drastic contrast there is
between the Jews and their Gentile neighbors!
The Gentiles--including Caesar--
would make statues of themselves and say, “These are our gods!”
The Jews, on the other hand, believed that God
made little images of himself and said, “These are you!”
The Christian tradition takes this notion a step further.
Saint Paul tells the Colossians
that Christ is the image of the invisible God (1:15).
We believe that God, then, has modeled man on Christ
and--by baptism, as we put on Christ--
renews the image of our creator within us (cf. 3:10).  (cf. J. T. Lienhard)

Thus we are to give to each that which bears his image:
Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,
and to God what belongs to God.
It’s far easier, far safer, and even far more affordable
to pay our taxes to the government
than it is to render unto God his due.
To God, we owe more than just a portion;
to God, we owe it all--
and not simply what we have, but who we are.

Am I giving God 100%?
Or have I kept an arm, or an attitude, or a sinful habit
out of the baptismal waters
to be used for a less-than-Godlike purpose?

The image of Christ--
in whose likeness we have been made and remade again--
is to be inscribed ever-so-clearly on our lives.
Every single part of me--the tiniest members of my body,
the smallest thoughts of my mind, the least desires of my heart--
first and foremost belong to God.  (cf. B. Stoffregen)

A few years back,
someone made me this neat little pillow when I baptized her baby;
it reads:

My friends, recognize and celebrate
in whose magnificent image you have been created.
Recognize that, because of your baptism,
you are called and chosen to reveal in yourself
the image of Jesus Christ to the world,
that people today
might come to know what is good and what is true--
might come to know God through you.
If there are aspects of your life
where Christ’s image has gotten a little tarnished,
there’s no time like the present
to break out the polish and make ’em shine.

You owe it to yourself.
Even more--you owe it to God.

1 comment:

muffin24 said...

that is an awesome pillow i wish i could be that talented.