When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, "Does not your teacher pay the temple tax?” Matt. 17:24
Sometimes Jesus’ teaching revolves around practical common sense. In today’s gospel, as the plots against Jesus begin to build, the temple tax collectors slyly ask Peter whether or not Jesus paid the temple tax. Jesus knew they weren’t as interested in whether or not he paid as in “catching” him at something.
It’s the kind of situation I hate to be in, filled with fear and conflict. But if I watch Jesus, I can see that his response teaches a good lesson. He is calm and thoughtful and brings up the thorny issue himself in front of the accusers who haven’t had the courage to face him directly.
The accusation of the tax collectors isn’t fair but Jesus doesn’t fight every injustice he sees. Rather than rail against the people who question him, Jesus points out that he shouldn’t have to pay – but then pays it anyway. He says we’ll pay the tax, “that we may not offend…”
I suspect Jesus doesn’t care if he offends these tax collectors, but he doesn’t want to get sidetracked by tax squabbles. In a small and delightful miracle, Jesus tells Peter to catch the first fish that comes out of the sea and in its mouth would be a coin to cover temple tax for both Jesus and Peter. He is saying, “Trust in God for the things you can’t control in your life.”
Often I get un-centered and self-absorbed by conflict. Jesus wants us to stay on focus and to trust in God rather than get caught up in unimportant conflicts of life. He wants to get back to his message of justice for the poor, loving our enemies and trusting in God. Today’s gospel is an invitation for us to accept the powerlessness we have in so many areas of our lives and embrace it as a way to draw closer to God. He doesn’t want us to surrender our peace to people who will draw us away from God by fretting, worrying and forgetting to surrender our lives to God, not humans who pick away at us.
Today is also the Memorial of St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, known familiarly as the Dominicans. Founded in 1216, St. Dominic’s order is focused on education and preaching. It is a privilege to share the Word through this technology, which I suspect St. Dominic would himself delight in and embrace.
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