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Monday – Nineteenth Week – OT2
Readings: Eze 1:2-5, 24-28c; Mt 17:22-27.
Reading 1 (Eze 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 stormwind 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.”
Fr. Anthony Dinh Minh Tien, O.P.
I. THEME: God’s presence in the temple
God, though has no figure, chooses to stay with human beings in the temple out of His love for them. He promises to stay with them all the days until the Last Day, began in the Tabernacle, then in the Jerusalem temple and extending to all the churches in the world. One of the human duties is to pay ten percent tax to maintain and to pay necessary expenses for the temple or churches.
Today readings talk about God’s presence in the temple and the human duty to maintain God’s dwelling place. In the first reading, even though there was no temple on exile, Ezekiel saw a vision of God’s majestic glory. In the Gospel, even though the temple Jerusalem is the dwelling place of His Father, Jesus showed Peter a way to find money to pay taxes both for him and Peter.
1/ Reading I: Ezekiel’s first vision
Starting from today, the first readings from the second circle shall be taken from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel, one of the four big prophets. He was living during the Babylon exile and carrying out his mission about 593-571 B.C. His name means “God perfects (this person).” He belonged to the priestly family, so he had a chance to study, especially about the law. He was married (Eze 24:18), and his father, Buzi (Eze 1:2), might have some influence on the governing of the Jerusalem temple. According to the tradition, he was buried in a tomb at Al-Kift, near the Hilla city of the modern Iraq, not too far from the ancient Babylon.
It can be said that Ezekiel’s generation is the connection between the past which Judah was lost and exiled and the future which the temple Jerusalem shall be rebuilt and Israel be re-established; his Book clearly indicated these two subjects. The Babylon exile lasted 70 years, so the time of returning and beginning of the rebuilding of the temple was about 520-518 B.C.
The temple Jerusalem is one of Ezekiel’s main subjects because it is in this place that God of Sabaoth shall present with His people. Ezekiel recorded in details the necessary points for the rebuilding of the future temple, beginning with his first vision. He wrote, “As I looked, a stormwind 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).”
The first vision reported what Ezekiel saw what fell from heaven. Even he didn’t see who sit on the throne, but through his description we can figure out that it is God. Four living creatures with wings which he described that “their form was human” and “as for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man in front; the four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle at the back.” (Eze 1:10). Later, some commentators identified these four living creatures with the four evangelists: Matthew has the head of a man; Mark of a lion; Luke of an ox and John of an eagle.
2/ Gospel: To pay tax to the temple
The temple in which Jesus and Peter shall pay tax in this passage is also the Jerusalem temple which the prophet Ezekiel mentioned in the first passage. 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. Every one 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.
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 he 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:
– The temple or the churches are God’s dwelling place; therefore, we need to maintain as the proper places of worship.
– To maintain them, the faithful need to contribute their financial, time and effort. Many faithful forget this duty or don’t contribute enough.
– As the supreme leader, Jesus was exempted from contribution; but because he didn’t want to cause a scandal to others, he told Peter to fulfill their part too.