Jesus’ answer to the disciples of the Pharisees in today's Gospel, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”, is remarkable for its clarity and good sense. He is able to respond to the conundrum presented by the Pharisees with such a limpid and liberating interpretation of the law, because of his standpoint at the heart of the covenant. It is where he lives. His understanding and sovereign freedom come from living the covenant at its core.
Just as the coin bears the image and inscription of Caesar and so belongs to him, so does man who bears the image of God and have his word inscribed in his heart belong to God and so ought to give his life wholly to him. Jesus’ response is so right because it is in accord with his experience. He receives everything from the Father and gives everything back to him in total conformity to the mission the Father has entrusted to him. He is handed over wholly to the Father’s will.
The Greek word translated as “image”, for the “image” on the coin, is “icon”. Jesus is the archetypal icon of God, since he “bears the very stamp of his nature” and “reflects his glory.” He is the face of the Father present in human history. It is not his own glory that he radiates but his Father’s. It is his own only in so far as it comes from the Father. Therefore Jesus is the icon of God only in so far as he does not determine his life but lets his Father shape it.
God must be free to shape and mold us, so that we too may become radiant vessels of his glory. If we are to be icons of Jesus, if through us individually and as a community, his face is to shine and be visible to others, then as he allowed the Father to give form to his life, so must we allow Jesus to shape our lives through the action of his Spirit. As monks, this can happen no place else than at the heart of our conversatio, our way of life.
In the Pharisees of today’s Gospel, we see a form of life that no longer conformed to the original form of the covenant but had in many ways hardened into a human form. Reduced in its capacity to be an icon of God’s glory, Pharisaism often tragically blinded its adherents to Jesus and his message. It had for these people become an idol.
Each of us has been entrusted with a mission to be in Jesus an icon of God. Each of us also has his idols, which dim our vision and in some matters make us blind. Our Cistercian way of life is a sure path I believe that if fully embraced strips us of our idols and allows the Holy Spirit to shape our lives so that they become less and less a self-construct and more and more an authentic and credible icon of God’s triune love. May he bring this about in us.
Photograph of our community on the day of the abbatial election this past June. In the center of the bottom row, we see Dom Damian our Abbot, along with Mother Maureen Abbess of Wrentham and Dom Jean-Marc Abbot of Bellefontaine, who joined us for the election.
Excerpts from this morning's homily by Father Timothy.