By Steve Longan
In the late ‘90s, my mom used to send me rolls of quarters through the mail. Not money, rolls of quarters - George Washington on one side and a bald eagle on the other.
She did this because she was afraid that, being a college student, I wouldn’t be able to do laundry. Also being from a small town, she was worried that I would somehow get lost on the giant Pinnochio’s island that is Portland, Oregon.
She would include a note along with the quarters every time that said, “If you get in trouble, give me a call.” Payphones were still a thing back then.
Every couple of weeks, like clockwork, I would get a fat envelope in the mail with rolls of quarters. But being a college student, I didn’t do much laundry. So I had all these quarters and nothing to do with them; I ended up acting like a sort of informal change machine in the dorms. But that still wasn’t enough.
Eventually I got a tube of epoxy cement, and I started gluing them to various surfaces around the laundry room. To me, it was really high comedy to watch college men try to pry quarters off of surfaces in the laundry room. I got found out, and I got fined $35 for campus service’s time removing the quarters.
I paid the fine in quarters.
Things like quarters and phone lines and streets and laundry and water are so woven into our experience that we forget what they’re for and who they belong to.
But Jesus isn’t confused about any of that. One time, people asked Him, “Is it okay for us to pay taxes to Caesar?” And He says, “Can somebody give me a coin?” Kind of like our quarter here. He asks them, “Whose image is on it?” They say, “Well, Caesar’s.” And He says, “Okay. Well, maybe you ought to give it back to Him.”
When Jesus says this, He’s not confused about the Roman government in any way. He knows they’re building roads; he knows they’re bringing water. He also know that they’re killing people and creating a slave trade. He still gives that answer.
The thing is, the way He finishes it is what’s important for us today. He asks, “Whose image are you in?” And that’s the key question because the image that we are all in is the one that we’re called to give ourselves back to. The one whose image we are in is the one who will shape our response to government structures. So before we consider what we’re going to do with our taxes and government, we have to consider who we are giving ourselves back to.
And that’s the opportunity we have this morning, to give ourselves back to God…to have our response to government structures come out of that self-giving, that collective giving back to God.
Steve Longan is part of Imago Dei's team of liturgists who contribute our Calls to Worship each Sunday. The Call to Worship is designed to lead us into uniting our actions, intentions, and emotions in loving response to God. For more information about creative liturgy and how to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org.