19th Week in Ordinary Time
1st Reading: Ez 1:2-5, 24-28c
On the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year, that is, of King Jehoiachin’s exile, The word of the LORD came to the priest Ezekiel, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar.— There the hand of the LORD came upon me. As I looked, a storm wind came from the North, a huge cloud with flashing fire enveloped in brightness, from the midst of which (the midst of the fire) something gleamed like electrum. Within it were figures resembling four living creatures that looked like this: their form was human. Then I heard the sound of their wings, like the roaring of mighty waters, like the voice of the Almighty. When they moved, the sound of the tumult was like the din of an army. And when they stood still, they lowered their wings. Above the firmament over their heads something like a throne could be seen, looking like sapphire. Upon it was seated, up above, one who had the appearance of a man. Upward from what resembled his waist I saw what gleamed like electrum; downward from what resembled his waist I saw what looked like fire; he was surrounded with splendor. Like the bow which appears in the clouds on a rainy day was the splendor that surrounded him. Such was the vision of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.
Gospel: Mt 17:22-27
As Jesus and his disciples were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were overwhelmed with grief. When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Does not your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes,” he said. When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, “What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?” When he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the subjects are exempt. But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.”
PAYING TEMPLE TAX: In two places, in the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus quotes the words “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13; 12:7) emphasising the fact that it is not the offerings or cultic practices that God wants but a life of love. Paying taxes is a controversial subject in all the societies. The conversation between Jesus and Peter symbolically discloses the mind of Jesus. Israel is a royal family in God’s kingdom. Just as a king does not tax his own family, God does not tax his people. The temple tax is levied to continue the cult in the temple. In the name of religion and cult, the poor and the ordinary people are fleeced. Jesus pays the tax but not from his own pocket. This questions the legitimacy of a mandatory tax. What God wants is to give up all kinds of evil and do good.
Prayer: Lord help me to do good things to you and to others.
CHRISTIAN RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES: The systems of the world give us rights and responsibilities depending on our relationships. However, there are different rights and responsibilities for different people. God encourages the children of Israel to take care of strangers as they were also in foreign land. When they were strangers in Egypt they were mistreated and heavily taxed. They are not expected to pay back by mistreating strangers. They are people of God. Jesus encounters an unfair tax system under the Roman rule. However, he encourages Peter to pay so that he does not offend the government of the day. As Christians, sometimes we need to forfeit our rights to meet the needs of others and to avoid being an offence.
OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW: Law is necessary for guiding, governing and executing justice. Nature itself is governed by law. Each country has its own law stipulated in its constitutions. We also have divine law which comes from God and is written in people’s hearts. Laws in themselves are good and when followed they lead to peace and tranquility. Failure to follow the law leads to infringement of people’s rights and violation of justice. If one keeps a law, the law will keep him. It is in paying tax that the government can be able to run day to day tasks. The Government will suffer if people refuse to pay taxes or the money is misused through corruption and scandals. Jesus pays tax for himself and for Peter. In doing this he set a good example on the relation which should exist between the Church and the state. Moreover, Christians should contribute to the well-being of the society. Keeping the commandments of God shows ones love for God and respect for the society. The precepts of God are good and they gladden the heart.