A few years ago, a camera company launched an add campaign using tennis star Andre Agassi. In the commercial Andre proclaims, "image is everything," a phrase which has now become part of American pop-culture. While the phrase was intended to promote the quality of a camera, in reality it reflects the attitude of many when it comes to finding identity. As we look into Matthew 22:15-21, we see that Andre was right, "image is everything."
The Pharisees set out to entangle Jesus by asking Him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Knowing what the religious leaders were up to, He turned the intended trap into an opportunity to teach. Jesus was a master teacher, who not only knew His audience but also knew how to get to the heart of a matter quickly. He responded to the Pharisees in what is known today as another popular cliché, "Show me the money." The Pharisees presented Him with a coin inscribed with an image of Caesar. Jesus asked them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They replied, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." They marveled at what He said and quickly went away. What did the Pharisees hear that caused them to marvel?
The Lord's remarks cut through the trick that the Pharisees were trying to play and caused them to come face to face with the question, "to whom should they give their lives?" The point of Jesus' teaching is that the image of a thing belongs to the one whose image it bears. He doesn't go into a long teaching on taxes, rather He emphasizes that they should give to God that which belongs to God. Jesus is making a point that the Pharisees were created in the image and likeness of God; therefore they should give themselves completely to God. Jesus' answer was pure genius. The religious parties had no grounds for attack, neither could He be accused of disloyalty to the Roman Empire. Instead, the Pharisees were left examining their own relationship with God.
The scripture tells us early on that God created us in His own image (Genesis 1:26). The fact of our identification with God should be a great source of peace, particularly in a world where image is a never-ending pursuit. If we are created in the image of our Heavenly Father, what is He like? The Father is like the Son as we learn when Jesus responds to His disciple's request to see the Father. "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father."
At last we see in Christ the definitive revelation of God. Like a mirror for our soul, Christ becomes the image we are to pursue, the image we are to imitate, and the image we are to embrace and to draw strength. "Disfigured by sin and death, man remains 'in the image of God,' in the image of the Son, but is deprived 'of the glory of God,' of his likeness." Jesus has assumed that "'image' and restored it in the Father's 'likeness'" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 705).
The Church teaches that "Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead" (CCC 357).
What should be our overarching preoccupation? What is the true vocation of every person on earth, including the Pharisees? To show forth the image of God and to be transformed into the image of the Father's only Son (CCC 1877).
Reflecting on today's readings, we see that a loving God holds the key to our identity and asks us to give ourselves back to Him as a gift. While we may intellectually understand this fact, practically speaking we may actually be looking to others or to things for our identity. Who holds the key to your identity? Who is it that currently defines who you are? To whom or what are you giving your life? Yes, Andre, image is everything.
A couple of things you might want to do:
1. This week, take stock of those areas of your life that do or do not conform to the image of Jesus. Pray and ask God to help you bring all the areas of your life under the Lordship of Christ.
2. Spend some time this week getting to know Jesus. Perhaps you could read scripture, spend time before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament or pray the rosary.