I love these few brief verses in today's gospel. Jesus prepares his disciples for his passion, death and resurrection and he decides to pay the temple tax. And, he tells Peter to get the money out of a fish's mouth.
The pleasure of reading these parts of Matthew's gospel comes from its surprises and its message. It seems surprising that Jesus is willing to pay a tax that seems unjust. Jesus will not die of natural causes. However, what seems clear is that Jesus is not going to die over a political agenda. It is surprising that Jesus doesn't want to "offend" the temple tax collectors while he has had no trouble mightily offending the religious establishment with his radical message about God's mercy. Jesus will die for proclaiming God's desire that we imitate God's special care for sinners, the poor and the marginal.
I like to think that the fish offers a small but important message. When we get caught in these moral binds, which require us to make a tough decision, which often requires a compromise for the overall greater good, God will provide. This story would have been so different if Jesus had turned to Judas and told him to take the money out of their common purse. Symbolically, Jesus is telling Peter to rely upon God's grace when making the right, albeit imperfect, choice.
And today it is important to remember the self-sacrificing Maximillian Kobe. A priest at Auschwitz remembered for his protection of Polish Jews, Maximillian came to a moral dilemma, with seconds to resolve. Ten prisoners were condemned to die by starvation, as punishment for a missing prisoner. Maximillian stepped forward and asked to be able to replace one of the 10 who had a wife and children. Surviving days of starvation, Maximillian was executed by lethal injection and his body was burned. This simple, heroic act of self-sacrifice, although an imperfect solution to all the huge moral issues at hand, is a powerful grace for us today. Where might I be called today, this week, to give more of myself for others? Each of us can ask for the grace to be ready to choose freely to give of myself when a family member or a friend needs me, even when I am called "to do the right thing," in the midst of a messy situation. God's grace will be enough for us in that choice.
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook