As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” And they were greatly distressed.
When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes, he does.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?” When Peter said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free.
However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved. http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations
Today’s gospel is something of a two-for. Here we encounter two seemingly disparate scenes and one coin that covers the tax for Jesus and Peter while representing much larger tenets of our faith.
Using some Ignatian imagination, we place ourselves in these scenes to mine their meaning.
In the first, we are among the disciples as Jesus tells us that he will be betrayed, killed, and raised from the dead. We have heard Jesus foretell his death before, but this time we get it. And this time we are greatly distressed. How can this be? How can our savior be killed? Does this mean that we, too, will be killed for following Jesus? Is this really how it all ends?
The second scene is no less complex. If we put ourselves in Peter’s shoes, how do we respond to the tax collectors when they ask if Jesus pays the temple tax? On one hand, we don’t believe Jesus should have to pay the temple tax because he is the Son of God! On the other hand, if we say no, we will cause scandal. So, we answer yes and then think of a way to ask Jesus about it later.
Jesus, anticipating our every need, raises the issue first by asking us whether kings take tolls from their children (subjects) or others (foreigners). “From others,” we respond, thinking that by extension Jesus and we, his disciples who belong to the kingdom of heaven, are exempt from paying taxes to those who are not of the kingdom.
Jesus affirms, but then teaches that the greater good is to avoid offense or confusion by paying the tax. Nothing should stand in the way of following Jesus or spreading the Gospel.
As Peter, we stand in awe of Jesus as he performs the miracle of the coin-bearing fish and pays the tax for us both. We are reminded of Jesus’ divinity, and then the revelation hits us: “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45; Mt 20:28).
What does it mean to “give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and to God what belongs to God”? As disciples, how can we follow Jesus by serving others?
—Jeremy Langford is the director of communications for theMidwest Jesuits and author of Seeds of Faith: Practices to Grow a Healthy Spiritual Life ©2007 Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
—Excerpted from the Litany of Humility by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930), Secretary of State to Pope Saint Pius XPlease share the Good Word with your friends!