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By KATIE G.
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.”
In my opinion, this Gospel reading is very often overlooked. I have to admit that when I started reflecting on this reading, no ideas immediately came to my head. On the surface level, this exchange between the collectors, Peter, and Christ is not romantic or heroic or impassioned like some of the other Gospel readings. That being said, I should know by now that God is not a surface level God!
The collectors of the temple tax approached Peter andsaid,“Does not your teacher pay the temple tax?” The particular tax that the collector asked of Jesus and Peter was called “a ransom for the soul”-- a small tax for the purpose of sustaining the temple. Exodus 30:12 recounts, “When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them.” The collector was asking Jesus to pay a ransom for his soul. The Son of God!?! A ransom for a perfect soul!?!
This is where the Gospel takes on its hidden meaning. Jesus, the Son of God, has no need of paying tribute. But still, he does. This expresses two different truths to us: that Jesus died for our sin although he had no sin himself, and that Jesus was perfectly humble.
Take some time to reflect on this reading as a representation of Christ’s passion and death. Jesus spent a lot of time in Capernaum. He knew better than anyone that the temple tax would be collected from him that day. He knew that he had no need himself of paying the temple tax. The collectors mocked him, trying to catch him disobeying Jewish law. But still, did he try to avoid the tax? Or think of the miraculous means by which the tax was paid! Christ could have called down the angels and received any amount of money he wished. But yet, he chose to pay the tax demanded from Him by the most humble means possible, and He only produced the exact amount necessary to pay. He paid every cent of what He had—there was nothing left over. And He paid for Peter.
When you dig into this reading, so much meaningful symbolism of the Passion comes to the surface. Christ didn’t avoid his captors in the Garden of Gethsemane. He presented himself freely. Christ had no need to die because He was perfect, but still he submitted himself to an unjust sentence and an unjust condemnation. He could have even come down from the cross! Or chosen a less gruesome way to die! But no—He gave everything He had, freely. Without contest. And He paid for us.
How strikingly humble! When was the last time I was subjected to injustice and didn’t complain for hours on end? I can’t even remember. Actually, I have probably never been able to react like Christ would. That is my pride coming to the surface. We all need to ask Christ to give us perfect humility. If the Son of God can make himself a servant, emptying himself entirely although it is seemingly unjust, what is holding us back from doing the same? Are we to be less humble than the Son of God? Forgive me, because this is a tangent, but I feel the need to share something that really struck me recently. Have you ever gone to Mass or adoration or confession and just felt overly “built up”? I was in Mass one time, and it struck me. There I was, dressed nicely, my hair was done, I had makeup on, there was an expensive cell phone and car keys in my pocket … and there was Christ on the altar, a piece of bread.
There is no way to be more humble than Christ, as crazy as that seems to us. He is perfect humility. We will never surpass Him in humility…. but we can strive to model our lives after it.
Here’s a good illustration. I was particularly stumped before writing this reflection, so I consulted a Biblical commentary. Unfortunately, the author of the commentary I often use is particularly prejudiced against Catholics. He says: “The papists make a great mystery of Christ’s paying for Peter, as if this made him the head and representative of the whole church; whereas the payment of tribute for him was rather a sign of subjection than of superiority.” To which we say as Catholics: exactly right, sir! “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” It is fitting that Peter, the rock upon which Christ built his church, should be totally indebted to Him. Superiority is not the mark of leadership. Superiority is not the mark of wisdom.
Today is the feast of St. Clare. We hear so often in the Church of men and women who abandon their wealth and pride to give themselves away as servants. What is stopping us?
Katie is a junior at a local Catholic high school. She is an intelligent and gifted writer and I would like to thank her for agreeing to write for this blog site. Welcome Katie!