In the first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel, we read of the call of Ezekiel to be a prophet of God for the exiles in Babylonia.  He was among the 10,000 captives banished to Babylon from Judah in 597 B.C. in the first deportation.  He was sent among the captives who were disheartened, thinking that all was lost and that God had abandoned His people.  The mission of Ezekiel was to assure them that God had not left them.  Even though He was in the Temple in Jerusalem, God was still with His people.

We read of the vision of Ezekiel when he saw the glory and majesty of God.  His glory and majesty was revealed in cloud, light and fire.  God reveals Himself through nature.  The vision of the four animals that Ezekiel saw portrays the omnipotence of God.  The four animals in their appearance were of human form. “Each had four faces, and each of them had four wings.”  (Eze 1:6)  The four faces symbolize the all knowledge of God and the wings symbolize the presence of God everywhere in the universe.  He is not confined to the temple in Jerusalem.  “As for the appearance of their faces: the four had the face of a human being, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle.”  (Eze 1:6, 10)   The lion symbolizes the strength of God, the ox, the service of God, the human being, the perfect man; and the eagle, divinity.

Most of all, Ezekiel saw the throne of God’s glory.  “It was something that looked like the glory of the Lord. I looked, and prostrated myself.”  Before the glory of God, we will all bow down, regardless.  Some will cover their faces because of the awesomeness of God’s glory; others will bow down and hide their faces because of the fear of judgment.  “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.” However, God remained the rainbow of humanity, giving hope to the people even in their exile.  The responsorial psalm declares the glory of God.  “Your glory fills all heaven and earth. Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights.  The splendor of his name reaches beyond heaven and earth.  He exalts the strength of his people.  He is the praise of all his saints, of the sons of Israel, of the people to whom he comes close.”

In the gospel, Jesus came to restore the glory of the Kingdom of God.  He came as a humble and lowly King.   Hence, when Peter was asked whether his master paid the Temple tax as was required by all adult Jews for the maintenance of the Temple, he replied in the affirmative without knowing the answer.  Jesus took the occasion to enlighten Peter and the apostles on His identity.  The truth is that the kings did not pay taxes nor did he collect taxes from his own family.  The kingdom belonged to the king and so they did not have to pay anything.  Clearly, the sons were exempt.  That being the case, since God is the king of the earth, and Jesus being His son, He would have been exempted from paying the Temple tax as well.

However, how could Jesus affirm His identity without causing unnecessary tension with the authorities?  On the surface, it seemed to contradict the integrity of Jesus for willing to submit to an unjust law so as not to offend the temple tax collectors when He had no issue condemning the religious leaders for their hypocrisy.   Was Jesus contradicting Himself?  The truth is that although He was not required to pay the Temple Tax, yet, He recognized the tax as something positive for the upkeep of the Temple.  Not all recognized Him yet as the Son of God, the Son of the Kingdom, and so to set a good example He instructed Peter to pay the tax to avoid scandal.  Whilst we can fight for our rights, sometimes we should refrain from insisting on our rights as Jesus did, for the greater good of all.

Nevertheless, to reinforce His identity as the Son of God, Jesus instructed Peter to pay the temple tax by taking a shekel from a fish.  By so doing, Jesus was reaffirming His authority over creation, which included His power over the fishes, whether in the miraculous catch or in providing a shekel for them to pay the tax.  Would such instruction contradict Jesus’ policy of not performing a miracle for His own benefit?  In this case, it was not so much for Himself, but as Jesus said, it was for the sake of the people because in truth, He was not required to pay any taxes.  So the tax was paid indirectly by divine providence.

There is also an additional reason why Jesus asked Peter to find the shekel from the fish.  After the announcement that “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”, the evangelist noted, “a great sadness came over them.”  Jesus felt the need to strengthen the faith of Peter and the apostles, that no matter what happened, God would provide and see them through, even in the mundane things of life.  Jesus was asking Peter to trust Him again and to rely on the grace of God.  Peter once again went in faith and found the coin in the fish’s mouth.  God cares for each one of us and we need to believe in Him even when we go through the trials and crosses of life.  This small incident was to restore faith in Peter and the apostles who were worried over the imminent death of our Lord.

Today, we are called to affirm our faith in Jesus who came to restore the glory of the kingdom through His death and resurrection.  Jesus revealed the glory of God not through the fullness of His power and majesty, as Ezekiel saw in his vision, but He came in lowliness.  That explains why the disciples could not understand Jesus when He prophesied His impending death.  Their understanding of Jesus was still unclear.  They were thinking of Jesus as a political king who would overthrow the Roman Power and establish the sovereignty of Israel once again.  So when they heard about his imminent death, they were unsettled because of their wrong perception of the kingdom that they thought Jesus came to offer.

The passion and death of Jesus is the way to restore the glory of God.  In Jesus’ death, He offered His entire self for the service of the People of God.  Through the offering of Himself, He taught us the meaning of love, service and forgiveness.  The kingdom of God is about humble and selfless love in service.  Only love and service can build the kingdom of God, unity among all peoples.  If the world is divided, it is because of greed, power and glory.   By His death on the cross, Jesus reveals to us that love is more powerful than hatred.  Indeed, God can bring good out of evil.  

By His resurrection, He shows us that life is more powerful than death.   This was why Jesus did not simply speak about His death but also His resurrection.  The cross is but the passage to the resurrection.  Without dying, there can be no resurrection.  By conquering death through His resurrection, Jesus shows us what life in the kingdom of God is like.  It is about joy in service, love and compassion for the poor and the suffering.   It was at His passion and resurrection that Jesus’ kingship was confirmed by Pilate and by His Father.

We too are called to radiate the glory of God.  By our lives, we are called to be the presence of God because we are created in His image and likeness.  Through our goodness we are called to be the light of the world.  (cf Phil 2:14f)  We must let the glory of God be revealed in our life.  We must guard ourselves from losing His glory by our sins.   This was the case of the Israelites.  They did not heed the call of the prophets to repentance.  They did not live the covenanted life.  Both the leaders and the people disobeyed the laws and worshipped false gods.  Their greed and selfishness blinded them from seeing the truth that God revealed through the prophets.  It was because of their sins that they were in exile, so that they would repent.  The prophet Daniel exhorts us to live a life of wisdom in righteousness.  “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”  (Dn 12:3)

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved

Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
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