August 13th - Monday of Ordinary Time week 19

FIRST READING: Ezekiel 1:2-5. 24-28

On the fifth of the month - it was the fifth year of exile for King Jehoiachin - the word of the Lord was addressed to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldaeans, on the bank of the river Chebar.
There the hand of the Lord came on me. I looked; a stormy wind blew from the north, a great cloud with light around it, a fire from which flashes of lightning darted, and in the centre a sheen like bronze at the heart of the fire. In the centre I saw what seemed four animals. I heard the noise of their wings as they moved; it sounded like rushing water, like the voice of Shaddai, a noise like a storm, like the noise of a camp; when they halted, they folded their wings, and there was a noise.

Above the vault over their heads was something that looked like a sapphire; it was shaped like a throne and high up on this throne was a being that looked like a man. I saw him shine like bronze, and close to and all around him from what seemed his loins upwards was what looked like fire; and from what seemed his loins downwards I saw what looked like fire, and a light all round like a bow in the clouds on rainy days; that is how the surrounding light appeared. It was something that looked like the glory of the Lord. I looked, and prostrated myself.

GOSPEL: Matthew 17:22-27

One day when they were together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, 'The Son of Man is going to be handed over into the power of men; they will put him to death, and on the third day he will be raised to life again'. And a great sadness came over them.
When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the half shekel came to Peter and said, 'Does your master not pay the half-shekel?' 'Oh yes' he replied, and went into the house. But before he could speak, Jesus said, 'Simon, what is your opinion? From whom do the kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their sons or from foreigners?' And when he replied, 'From foreigners', Jesus said, 'Well then, the sons are exempt. However, so as not to offend these people, go to the lake and cast a hook; take the first fish that bites, open its mouth and there you will find a shekel; take it and give it to them for me and for you.'
We have all heard the expression that: ‘Nothing is certain but death and taxes’

Several famous authors have uttered lines to this effect. The first was Daniel Defoe, in The Political History of the Devil, 1726: "Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed." Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) used the form we are currently more familiar with, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789, which was re-printed in The Works of Benjamin Franklin, 1817: "'In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Another thought on the theme of death and taxes is Margaret Mitchell's line from her book Gone With the Wind, 1936:  "Death, taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them."

Death and taxes are juxtaposed in the Gospel today. Jesus breaks the bad news of His imminent Passion and death. Perhaps it is a matter of weeks. We can relate to the sadness of the disciples if we can recall an instance when a loved one was told  - and told us in turn -that they had an incurable illness or terminal cancer, and that it was soon.  The perspective on EVERYTHING changes. Mourning – and preparation - begins in earnest.

It is strange that this profound and crucial teaching episode is immediately followed by a question –now trivial and unseemly - in the face of the enormity of the death of Jesus about to take place.

Why the tax at all? Capernaum is a name meaning border. Therefore all non-residents were subject to the toll of passage. Such a toll would be too ‘taxing’ for the sons’ as they would frequent the border frequently. It was a travel tax. Sons were exempt. Foreigners were subject to it.

The question put to Peter is rhetorical in a sense – it is meant to put Peter in a bind but it is really from Jesus – it is a statement of identity.  Jesus is in fact the Son of God. To confirm that what He is about to undergo for the people should exempt Jesus from every human demand. But in order to show His humility he is prepared to pay the silly tax, but in probably the most curious incident of the Gospel – the required shekel is found in the simple and familiar act of fishing.

In fact the first Reading and the glory of God gives us some inkling of Jesus’ descent from His hidden glory. It provides a stark contrast of the glorious state of the divine as depicted in Ezekiel. The humility of Christ ‘though his state was divine, Jesus did not consider equality with God , but emptied Himself and having emptied himself he became as all men are and assumed the condition of a slave.’ (Phil 2:6) He was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.’ This is known as Jesus’ kenosis. The remainder of the passage from Philippians puts us right back ‘in the picture’ as it were of heaven –‘all beings in the heavens in the earth and the underworld should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:10-11)

Where, in turn, is my humility? Am I vain, self-centred, and arrogant? Where is my sense of dutiful service (my payment of taxes - my duty), my sense of self-giving to others, my ‘self-emptying’ like Christ, and surrender of my will to God’s? Do I take up my cross or run from it?

And is Jesus Christ truly Lord of my life?

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