If you are old enough you will remember the 1990s-television ad campaign for Canon cameras featuring the then very young Andre Agassi. He was a brash young tennis pro sporting long hair, a head band, and was ready to take on the world. He was flashy, a media star, a great tennis player. He was hot, happening, the icon of cool. At the end of the commercial he looks into the camera – into your soul and simply says, “Image is everything.”
And it seemed like that when we were teenagers. Back then – sure we were alone – all us spent some time inspecting our image, gazing into mirrors, creating the face we want the world to see. Practicing a smile, a frown, a smirk, seeing what we would look like with spiked hair or getting our hair just so. I can’t speak for the ladies present, but if we guys are honest, there was some time spent flexing not-yet developed muscles and convincing ourselves we were ripped. Time did not erode the inclination. In our middle years, we check the mirror to make sure we project confidence, competence, and all the market place and business requires. In our later years, we gaze into the mirror to wonder where the lines on our faces came from and where our hair is going. Image is indeed something.
At first blush it all seems terribly vain and shallow, but…we must value something about images… between our cell phones, our camera, and all the other devices that are photo-capable, we capture, post, share, and print tons of images – to share, decorate, and ultimately to remember. I know that I can review my life in the series of images I have stuffed in albums, boxes, desk drawers, cases and a hundred places I have set aside and cannot recall. The oldest ones are polaroid and Kodak black and white images, eventually evolving into the first Kodachrome color images. Then came the digital age. Now my photographed-life is on a hard drive and occasionally posted on-line somewhere.
Images of a lifetime. Images that tell a story – the story of our lives. And they whisper to us… remember what you look like – what you have been, what you are and what you are becoming. Maybe image is everything – at least in the story they can tell…. If we would listen to the whispers. In those whispers are reflections of the mirrors of our soul; reminders of a time when we glanced in a real mirror.
Caesar would have understood. “Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” The Roman Emperor looked into his mirror and wanted to see a reflection of power, stability and prosperity. And he wanted that image on every coin. Each Roman coin told a story… and they sold an image. Pax Romana – the peace of Rome. For an Emperor, image was everything. He wanted to remind you that everything belonged to him. That you belonged to him.
“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
What is it that belongs to God? Surprisingly enough, Jesus is trying to answer that question for the Pharisees by telling them that Image is important. If you only look at the coin you can be seduced into believing Caesar. If you look into the mirror of your life and only see your own face staring back, you can also be deceived.
What should we look into so that we are not deceived? There is an adage that says to read the newspaper in one with the gospel in the other. Perhaps our parallel wisdom for today is to glance into the images of our lives with one hand while holding the gospel in the other. We need to take St. Paul’s suggestion from the 2nd reading and peer into the gospel that came in power and in the Holy Spirit. We need to look to the image that Isaiah would have us consider and remember – when we peer into the mirror that we know:
- We are created in the image of One who chooses us in love and calls us by name.
- We are created in the image of One who anoints us and gives us a title.
- We are created in the image of One who unbars all the gates, opens all the doors, and grasps us by the hand.
- We are created in the image of One who is always with us – who loved us so much he became one of us
In the exchange with leaders of Jerusalem, Jesus isn’t asking us “How much do we owe?” He is asking them to shake off the amnesia, for they have forgotten who they are, in whose likeness they were made.
We are a people who are called to look into the mirror of our lives, into the mirror of this day, into the mirror of the gospel, and see in ourselves the Image of Christ – an image we are called to reflect into the world. To be people in the world that if Christianity were a crime, we would surely be charged and convicted. We are called to be the imago Dei in the world and point to the Reign of God.
Like Agassi at the end of the commercial, Jesus looks into our souls and in the final judgment will simply say, “Image is everything.”