There's so much that we can take from today's Gospel. But let's focus on a small, but powerful, piece of it - a piece that is often overlooked.
When asked if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus asks for a coin.
"Whose likeness and inscription is this?"
He asks the Pharisees and Herodians whose image and likeness is the coin made in. They responded by noting that it's Caesar's image on the coin. Jesus follows up by telling them that they should "[r]ender therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
Seems simple enough. But let's go deeper than that.
We already know that the coin bears Caesar's image (another translation says "likeness"). But what are we supposed to give to God? To answer this, we have to go back to the beginning.
In Genesis 1:26, we read that God said:
"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness."
If you go a little further (Gn 1:27), we read that:
"God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."
If we are called to give God that which is His, that is to say, that which bears His image and His likeness, then we must give ourselves. Because we are made in His image and likeness, we are called to give God the very gift of our being.
Many times, however, we forget the fact that we are made in God's image and likeness. This happens when we try to build up our identity on things that will fade - money, relationships, power, sex, partying. The list goes on. Because of this, we end up finding ourselves wounded and broken. But the beauty of the Gospel is that it reminds us that no matter how far we stray, or how many times we forget our identity, God is always there to bring us back home.
Now, today happens to also be the feast day of a pretty cool dude: Saint John Paul II (my patron and my saint BFF, just saying).
Saint John Paul II is a man who dedicated his life to reminding people of their identity. He devoted his time and energy to speaking truth into the hearts of the men and women of the world in an effort to remind them who they truly are and of their call to greatness. In fact, much of his pontificate was dedicated to the teachings known as the Theology of the Body - his teachings on the human person, love, sexuality, etc. These teachings call us to "go back to the beginning" to remember who we are, how we are designed, and what we are made for (spoiler: we're made for eternal communion with the Holy Trinity).
I could seriously go on a tangent on just the TOB, so I'll save you from the essay. Instead, I'll echo Saint John Paul II's words to you:
“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.
It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.
Have no fear in seeking Him. He will lead you to happiness.”
Friends, it is Jesus you seek.
He is the source of true, unending joy. It is He who turns sinners into saints. It is He who can make the blind see and the mute speak. It is He who stirs the desire for greatness in your heart. Even now, He is working.
I don't know what you're going through. I don't know what's going on in your heart. I don't know the brokenness that you carry. I don't know if you were ever taught whose image and likeness you were made in. I don't know if you had forgotten this beautiful truth because of your wanderings. But I do know one thing: God is present with you in all of it. The same God that called Abraham, Issac, and Jacob calls you. The same God who walked on this earth and performed miracles seeks to walk with you and to work "signs and wonders" in your own heart. He is calling you to remember one thing, and this one thing, will completely change your life.
Jesus is calling you to remember whose image and likeness you were made in.
Once you understand your identity as a son/daughter of God, you will understand that it comes with a certain responsibility: to tell others the Good News! Just as Saint John Paul II sought to remind people - especially young people - of their worth, may we have the same conviction to proclaim this beautiful truth to all those we encounter.
Saint John Paul II, friend of youth, pray for us!