I remember when the term “selfie” started circulating widely throughout our country several years back.
Honestly, the very name made me gag. Selfie? Really? Ugh! Are there any peaks left to climb on the mountain of our collective narcissism?
So I refused to take selfies for years just on principle. And yet, it’s really not so surprising. In fact, I can think of no one word that encapsulates our age, that defines our collective priorities and focus better than that innocuous little term: selfie.
Inevitably, I, too, have been influenced by the camera’s turn from the world “out there” to the world of self.
And while we pull out our phones and fill our pockets with images of ourselves, this phenomenon isn’t unique to the 21st century. The emperor of Jesus’ day also stamped his selfie on the coins circulating throughout his empire, then he’d charge taxes to ensure that his selfie came back to him, so he might line his own pockets with images of himself.
This put the God-fearing Israelites in a tight spot. Are they to comply with the unjust tax upholding their oppressor or does their loyalty belong to God alone?
That’s essentially the question Jesus is asked in Matthew 22:15-22. A couple groups of ill-intentioned questioners approach Jesus to ask him, “is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
Now this question is meant to trap Jesus. Should he say “yes,” his crowd might turn on him and all of Jesus’ teachings about loyalty to God alone would be called into question. But if he says “no,” then he becomes an anti-imperial revolutionary that foments insurrection and sedition. An “all-or-nothing” response is lose/lose.
But Jesus sees through it and challenges the very premise of their question.
“Show me the coin used for the tax,” Jesus says. They pull out a selfie of the emperor. “Whose head is this, and whose title?”
“The emperor’s,” they respond.
Well, then, give it back to him, if it belongs to him. But as you do, remember that God has His selfie stamped on creation, too. So give to God what belongs to God.
What is Jesus suggesting here? I think he’s recalling Genesis 1, when God created humankind in His image, according to His likeness. I think he’s remembering Psalm 24, in which it says that “the earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it.” And for us, as we read this encounter, we are drawn to the person of Jesus himself, whom Paul calls in Colossians 1, “the image of the invisible God,” and later tells the global Church that they are “the Body of Christ.”
So for those of us who follow Jesus, that means we are God’s selfie to the world. We bear the image of God so that others might know what He looks like. Say cheese, then! And as we do, let’s ask ourselves, what does it look like to portray God’s selfie to the world?
Joshua Gorenflo and his wife, Kya, are ministers at Kenai Fellowship, Mile 8.5 on the Kenai Spur Highway. Worship is 11 a.m. on Sundays. Streamed live at kenaifellowship.com.