When we hear today's Gospel, we often think of the separation of Church and State, and rightly so. The Church and the State both have their own power which is proper to them. This doesn't mean that the Church and state have nothing to do with each other as if one was completely indifferent to the other. Rather, they are both interconnected and both are necessary for the flourishing of the human person. The Church can benefit the state and the state can benefit the Church. But that's not what I want to focus on today. I want to focus on Jesus' use of the word 'image.'
Image of God
From the beginning, we were made in the image of God. Like God we are able to know and to love things. By knowing and loving we are free and we can participate in God's creative power. While only God can create from nothing, we can create by reshaping God's creation and ordering it towards God. God created us to use our freedom to be signs of His providence over the world. In ancient days, a king or local rule would carve his image and place it in the places under his control. The statues represent the local lord's providence for that area. They are a sign of the king's power and his care. This sets the background for Genesis in which it is divinely revealed that we are God's image. We resemble Him by our powers of knowing and loving and are a living sign of His providence, His power and care, for the world.
Repay… to God
In the Gospel we hear, "Whose image and inscription is this?" as Jesus holds up a coin. The answer, as we all know is Caesar. And what does Jesus say to do with Caesar's image? "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar." Caesar's image belongs to him, so pay the tax! Give back to Caesar what belongs to him. And parallel to this Jesus says, "and to God what belongs to God." Because money belongs to Caesar because it has Caesar's image on it, we belong to God because we are God's image. This passage is not only about respect the sphere of secular government, but also about giving back to God what belongs to Him: our very selves. Give our money to Caesar, Jesus says, but give your whole self to God. That's something to be amazed about.
Spotless, without blemish
To give ourselves entirely to God is to make ourselves spotless, without blemish. When St. Peter says spotless, he means spotless. He means to avoid every single sin. Do not be content to be mediocre! The Lord says, "How I wish you were hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth!" The Lord God wants to see you completely on fire with love and devotion for him, not clinging to any sin venial or mortal. This, my brothers and sisters, is a terrifying, long task. It's not a task to be completed all at once or in our own power. That's why St. Peter says "Grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and savior Jesus Christ." It is by God's grace that we grow into the fullness of God's image. God is transforming us by His grace, conforming us into the image of Christ Jesus. By the gift of faith He is helping us to know as Christ knows and by the gift of Charity, he is helping us to love as Christ loves. By increasing our power to know and love, the Blessed Trinity is intensifying the image of God in us. And so, we hear St. Peter to tell us to continue growing until we are without spot or blemish before God. This slow growth will require patience, but when we arrive at our salvation, we shall be at peace.