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The Twenty Third Sunday after Trinity

Fr. David Curry

Christ Church, Windsor Nova Scotia, AD 2001


“Whose is this image and superscription?”


What’s it all about?  Can it be that we are defined, controlled and governed by money?  Does everything comes down to money?  “Money makes the world go round, of that we all are sure”, as sings the chorus in Cabaret?  Is the cabaret of life, old chum, simply the cash nexus as Thomas Carlyle first suggested and Karl Marx famously claimed?  And if so, what does that make us?


Of course we are all affected by money or the lack thereof.  What will be the consequence, for instance, of changing the time of service last week from 9:30 to 10:30 to accommodate the Remembrance Day Service at the Cenotaph?  Even though that was done for reasons of Christian charity and outreach to the community, that is to say, for reasons belonging to our spiritual purpose and mission, such things like that or the weather, as every country priest knows, can affect the cash flow and the budget overall.  It simply illustrates what happens when commitment to the Church is reduced to the principle of “pay-as-you-go”, to what is basically a consumer service mentality.  And, of course, such things also result in the exercise of a kind of economic power over the clergy.  It comes down to questions about power.


Money, it is proverbially and scripturally said, is “the root of all evil”.  Why?  Because money is power.  The misuse of money is the abuse of power.  Money is twisted around from a medium of exchange to a form of domination and control.  There is, at once, the use of money to dominate and manipulate others.  But there is, as well, the fact that money comes to dominate us. 


It causes us to forget who we are.  Nowhere, perhaps, is this more prevalent than today.  Whether we are rich or poor, employed or unemployed, pensioned or unpensioned, we are under a constant barrage of images that seek to persuade us that we are merely economic beings, that our worth and the meaning of our lives is to be measured materially and financially.  This is not only destructive of human personality and the human community but as such it is destructive of the forms of honest and meaningful exchange so necessary to the welfare of souls and communities.  Their end, our end, “is destruction, whose god is their belly”


Money comes to possess us because we allow it to define the space in which we live out our lives.  Means become ends which they cannot be.  Economic ends must always fail us for the simple reason that our lives and the worth of our lives cannot be reduced to an economic quantity.  When we are defined economically, then we are but “bellies”, as it were, consumers, and, no doubt, “bellyachers” as well.  We are seduced into thinking that everything, including religion, must be a consumer product, a marketable commodity.  The evil of money lies precisely in making us forget who we are.


In the face of this kind of forgetting, Jesus would recall us to ourselves.  In the New Testament surprisingly, no one talks as much about money as Jesus and there is nothing that Jesus talks quite as much about as money.  He knows us only too well, our weaknesses and our temptations.  “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”.  Consequently, “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”.  And in today’s Gospel, “Show me the tribute-money”, Jesus demands of the Pharisees, who sought to entangle him in his talk over an issue about money and taxes. 


“Whose is this image and superscription?”, he asks them in response about the coin.  It bears the image of Caesar, the Roman Emperor, the highest power on earth, humanly speaking, at that time.  For money is, inescapably, the concrete symbol of worldly power.  And, however much it may affect us, the phrase “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” is a true statement which reflects the political order to which economic matters are subordinate.  Yet, money is utterly unable to be the image of who we are in the truth of our being.  It cannot be the image of us.  Money cannot capture who we essentially are.  If we think that it can, then we both forget and delude ourselves.  We give money a power over ourselves.  The question “whose is this image and superscription” recalls us to ourselves and to God. 


The coin may bear the image of Caesar and thus symbolise his worldly power, but as Jesus will say to Caesar’s man in Jerusalem, “thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above”.  Even the power of Caesar ultimately derives from and belongs to God. 


The image we bear is something greater.  It cannot be captured on a coin.  We are not made in the image of money but in the image of God.  We have been stamped with the sign of the cross at our baptism.  “Our citizenship is in heaven” and our economic life must be subordinate not only to political life but to the spiritual reality of our God-created and God-redeemed humanity.  The real worth of our being is to be found in that higher and eternal relation of exchange - the exchange of love - transacted by Jesus Christ on the cross “for us and for our salvation”.  It is to be realised in lives of sacrifice - the widow’s mite, the giving without counting the cost, for “with God all things are possible”, even the salvation of the rich.


If the love of money constrains us, then we defraud ourselves with what is less than the whole worth and true measure of our being.  Paul would remind us that the love of Christ must constrain us “because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.  And he died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who died for their sake and was raised”.  Such is the infinite exchange of love and such is that infinite exchange in us.  God becomes man that he might give himself for us and that his life might live in us.  It is without price.  It is priceless because it is beyond human calculation.  It costs too much.  It is the infinite value of the heart-blood of Jesus. 


Against the idols of economic determinism and technological exuberance, we are reminded of our identity with God in Christ.  We are made in the image of God and stamped with the cross of Christ.  The love of God must be what shall constrain us, compel us and define us; anything less makes us less than ourselves.  Here in this place we find the necessary counter to all the forces in our day that would constrain us to what is less than ourselves.


Next Sunday at Confirmation those being confirmed will receive the strengthening and renewing grace of the Holy Spirit to be defined by the objective grace of God precisely against all the temptations and idols of our world and day.  They will be a reminder to us of who we are and what we are called to be.  For such a service will recall us both individually and as a parish to the strong objectivity of the Word of God and the serene objectivity of the Sacraments which are given to define and enliven us.  It will recall us to the dignity and the integrity of our spiritual heritage and life together in the body of Christ.


Here in this service of the Holy Communion we are recalled to the love which is poured out for us.  It is poured out so that we might be reconstituted in the image of the one who has made us and redeemed us.  We are God’s.  His love is written over us, to be sure, that is the great and real “superscription”,  but it is also to be written in us, in lives of sacrifice and service, in lives of prayer and praise, in lives consecrated by Word and Sacrament.  It is about who we are.  The year runs out to recall us to the one whose grace and mercy defines us.  Whose image and superscription are we?