In the Old Testament reading, we meet Cyrus the Great, who was king of the Persian empire. Through the prophet Isaiah, God tells Cyrus that all his power came from the God of the Israelites even though Cyrus did not acknowledge the Lord.
In the Gospel reading, we hear of a challenge presented to Jesus by the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Pharisees show up often in the Gospels as entrenched Jewish leaders who see in Jesus of Nazareth a threat to their arrangement with the Roman Empire. The Herodians were similar to the Pharisees in their willingness to accommodate the secular powers as they practiced their religious faith.
Both Cyrus and Caesar were great kings. Both ruled great empires. They controlled large armies, and they had such authority they issued the currency used by their subjects. Each in his own time knew he had great power. But did they know where their power came from? Not Cyrus, according to Isaiah, who says Cyrus did not know God. Certainly not Caesar, who insisted he should be worshipped as a god.
All the readings today show us that God has dominion over all nations. His message is for all nations: for Cyrus, king of Persia in the OT reading; for all nations in the Psalm; for Greeks in Thessalonika in the Epistle; for Romans and Herodians in the Gospel.
The message to Cyrus says directly that the Jewish God is the only true universal God. In the Gospel story, Jesus makes the same statement but does so indirectly. When challenged about the payment of taxes, Jesus focused their attention on whose coin was used for payment. The coin said Caesar, which Jesus reminds all of us means everything else belongs to God.
Jesus asks the scribes whose image is on the coin. Caesar’s image is on the money. But he is asking us whose image is on you? Imago Dei. You and I are made in God’s image. His Mark is on us. What does that mean?
In his homily last Sunday, Fr. Rey told us the wedding garment in last week’s Gospel story is the white garment of Christ we received in our Baptism. We should be wearing it at the wedding banquet in Heaven.
At our birth, we are made in God’s image. We are grafted back into his family through our baptism. And we are heading to the nuptial banquet in Heaven like the bride going to the bridegroom.
We are marked by God, we are clothed by God, we belong to God. He is calling us. Can we hear him? Can we respond to him?
Or do we get distracted by the coins in our pocket. Are we like Cyrus, king of all he sees but not seeing the One who made him. Are we like Caesar, thinking ourselves gods and minting our own coinage to represent real power but not seeing our Redeemer?
Do we – like the Herodians – compromise our religion to fit in with the spirit of the times? Do we become complacent and indifferent like those invited to the wedding feast in last week’s Gospel?
Is Jesus a threat to our arrangement with secular leaders, like the Pharisees collecting taxes for the Roman Empire? Do we make Jesus fit into our world, or will we reshape our world to follow him?
God still has dominion even though Cyrus and the Persian empire is long gone. God still has the power to create life even though the Roman empire is dead, dead, dead. Our personal empires won’t last either. Only God lasts. So, pay Caesar his taxes. But serve God alone.