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Monday – Nineteenth week – OT1
Readings: Deut 10:12-22; Mt 17:22-27.
1/ First Reading: RSV Deuteronomy 10:12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I command you this day for your good? 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it; 15 yet the Lord set his heart in love upon your fathers and chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as at this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve him and cleave to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and terrible things which your eyes have seen. 22 Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the Lord your God has made you as the stars of heaven for multitude.
2/ Gospel: RSV Matthew 17:22 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. 24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the half-shekel tax went up to Peter and said, “Does not your teacher pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel; take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
I. THEME: People’s duties to God
God continually pours out His grace on human beings. He does all things out of love, not of owing anything from men. In order to respond to God’s love, people need to study so they could understand about God and their relationship with Him. In truth, even when people respond, they don’t add anything to Him; but they shall receive more blessings, and especially to live a happy life with Him forever.
Today readings help us to understand partly what God has done for human beings and our duties to respond to His love. In the first reading, Moses prepared for the Israelites before they enter the Promise Land so that they might live a happy life in it. The conditions to be happy are: they must worship the Lord, the only God, and must follow what He teaches by walking in His way. All these were recorded in the Ten Commandments which God gave to them on Mt. Sinai. In the Gospel, the tax-collectors did a funny thing; they came to Peter to ask for the tax of the one who gives them all things in this world and is going to die to redeem their sins. However, knowing of their ignorance, Jesus ordered Peter to go to the Galilee Sea to fish and use that money to pay taxes for both of them.
1/ Reading I: People’s duties before God
1.1/ You must circumcise your heart; Don’t be stubborn anymore: During the forty years of wandering in the desserts to be purified, many times the Israelites felt to temptations when they faced trials. Now, before entering the Promise Land, Moses might foresee all dangers which the Israelites shall have to face in the prosperous land, he gathered and reminded them some most important things:
(1) They must revere God alone: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God.”
(2) They must keep His commandments and decrees: “To walk in all his ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I command you this day for your good.” The purpose of God’s commandments is for people to be safe and happy, not to take away their freedom or to oppress them.
Revering God and keeping His commandments are reasonable for all the wise because: “The Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.”
Moreover, He showed His love for the Patriarchs and for them when He chose them as His own people to care for, to protect and to lead them into the Promise Land. Therefore, they must show their love for Him by obeying, circumcising their heart, and no longer being stubborn.
1.2/ You must avoid the prideful attitude and love the foreigners: Moses continued to teach the Israelites two new things:
(1) Avoiding the prideful attitude: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.” This is the sin which the Israelites violated many times in the past. They thought once they were loved and chosen as God’s own people, God shall protect them at all cost even they betray Him. This thinking is wrong because “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Mt 3:9). The only way they can continually be loved and protected by God is to revere Him and to keep His commandments.
(2) To treat the weak with justice and mercy: God “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” It isn’t right when people think that they are God’s chosen people and they can treat others unjustly, especially the widows, the orphans and the sojourners. These are three weakest kinds of people in the society and need to be helped. The Old Testaments many times declared: whoever maltreats them, maltreats God and He shall not forgive him (Exo 22:24; Job 22:9; Psa 68:5; Isa 10:2).
2/ Gospel: Must Jesus pay the temple’s tax?
2.1/ What is the temple’s tax? The temple in which Jesus and Peter shall pay tax in this passage is the Jerusalem temple. There were many expenses for the temple, such as: the morning and the evening sacrifices which includes an one year old lamb, wine, flour and olive oil for each sacrifice. These things, after offering, shall become food for the priests. Besides these, they have to buy necessary things for the temple such as: incenses and liturgical costumes for the priests and the high priests. To have the money, the Book of Exodus described, “Each who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the Lord. Everyone who is numbered in the census, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the Lord’s offering” (Exo 30:13-14).
The way to pay the temple tax was prescribed as follows: On the month of March (Adar) of each year, the one who is responsible in villages and towns shall issue a notice saying that the time to pay the temple tax has come and the counters to receive them shall be put up in certain places. If anyone doesn’t pay it before the twenty-fifth of this month, they must go up to Jerusalem to pay it.
Peter’s house is very close to the Capernaum synagogue, there is no surprise when the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” Peter answered them “Yes.” These people might remind Peter and Jesus of their duty, but also could set a trap to accuse them if they don’t pay it.
2.2/ Jesus’ reaction: When he came into the house, before Peter 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 Peter said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the subjects are exempt.” The Greek version has “sons” instead of “subjects” of the NAB version. There are two reasons for Jesus to be exempted from paying the temple tax: first, he is the son of God, and secondly, the temple is God’s dwelling place, his Father’s house (Lk 2:49).
“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.” Many commentators raised a question for this miracle because it was too small. Others said it is only a Jewish way of saying, as Jesus said to Peter: Cast your net into the sea to catch fish, and to sell them to pay the temple tax for both you and me.
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– We owe God everything. If we recognize this and live corresponding to God’s grace, we shall continually receive His blessing and protection.
– The temple is the place where God dwells among us; therefore, it needs to be well maintenance. To do that, the faithful needs to contribute. Many faithful forgot this duty or not contribute enough.
– As leader, Jesus had a right to be exempted; but to set a good example for others, he told Peter to fulfill their contribution for the temple.