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God Is the One Who Sees

Memorial of Saint Dominic, Priest

First Reading: Ezekiel 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.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 148:1-2, 11-12, 13, 14

R. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights;
Praise him, all you his angels;
praise him, all you his hosts.
R. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
Let the kings of the earth and all peoples,
the princes and all the judges of the earth,
Young men too, and maidens,
old men and boys,
R. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
Praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted;
His majesty is above earth and heaven.
R. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
And he has lifted up the horn of his people.
Be this his praise from all his faithful ones,
from the children of Israel, the people close to him.
Alleluia.
R. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.

Gospel: Matthew 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.”

NAB

aug 8

When I read this passage, I have to fight not to let my attention be diverted by the fish with a coin in his mouth. I imagine a smile playing at Jesus’ lips when He tells His friends how this is all going to go down. It’s a tax He should not have to pay. He was, after all, very much the Son and not the foreigner. Nevertheless He is going to pay it because He has, in this instance, an opportunity to show us that we have to obey the laws and customs of our land, so long as they don’t conflict with God’s laws. Jesus tells Saint Peter that He will pay the tax “that we may not offend them.”

Sometimes, Christians are called to exercise prudence and remember that we can put stumbling blocks in another’s journey to meet Christ if we offend. So, Jesus isn’t going to offend. He’s not going to die on that hill. He’ll choose another.

But how does He pay the atonement tax? He could have reached up and pulled the coin from behind Saint Peter’s ear or made it appear miraculously in His own pocket. Instead, He who rules over all creation, has it appear in the mouth of a fish. So . . .  take that those who do not believe that He’s the Messiah.

I don’t want to be distracted by the fish, however clever it was, and miss the other parts of the story. Jesus knew even before Saint Peter broached the subject exactly what was troubling him. He knew and He articulated for him everything that was needed. Before Peter even spoke, Jesus understood every dimension of his problem and had every solution. That’s God: the One who sees what we need and knows exactly how He will provide.

Jesus also knows how He is going to die and He takes the opportunity to gently remind His friends of what will come and to prepare them for the pain they will endure as they travel with Him to Calvary. There is a greater debt to pay and Jesus is no more liable for that debt than He is for the temple tax. Finally, the part that speaks volumes: when Jesus pays the atonement money, He pays Peter’s tax, too.

In a short time, He will willingly lay down His life for Peter—and you and me—a much greater debt paid in full. No fishing necessary.

photo credit

Elizabeth Foss is a wife, the mother of nine, and a grandmother. She finds the cacophony of big family imperfection to be the perfect place to learn to walk in the unforced rhythms of grace. You can learn more about her here

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