And Moses said to th people, "So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.
"Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord your God, the earth with all that is in it, yet the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today. Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen. Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in heaven."
As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised." And they were greatly distressed.
When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?" He said, "Yes, he does." And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?" When Peter said, "From others," Jesus said to him, "Then the children are free. But so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me."
The more aware we feel of God's majesty, the more amazing his love must seem, his care for all creatures. Today's texts catch this paradox, first focussing on God's majesty.. "The highest heavens belong to Him, with the earth and everything on it." How can Yahweh care for Israel above all other peoples? Yet, paradox though it be, they deeply felt it as a living truth. Godall-powerful chooses the smallest, for such is his gracious love. Yet they must not scorn the other, non-chosen peoples, but reach out to embrace immigrants, to befriend, feed and clothe them. We sense a prophetic influence when Deuteronomy says that God "has no favourites, and does justice for the orphan and the widow." This is much more than a restatements of Israel's law, for like the apostle Paul, it calls for a warm, personal response to the law.
Jesus accepted the temple tradition and told Peter to pay the temple tax for both of them; but he also hints that the Father's intentions reached far beyond temple and law. This gospel tale suggests that the transition from one elect race to a worldwide family of all nations would not be easily achieved. The Son of Man must give his life for the many before it can be made a reality.
There are two parts to today's gospel. In the first part Jesus announces his coming suffering and death. As a result, a great sadness came over the disciples. Sadness is the normal response when we are faced with the departure or the death of someone we love. We have all known that kind of sadness, the sadness that engulfs the disciples in today's gospel. To some extent, we live with it all the time. Yet, we cannot allow such sadness to dominate us. We have to keep going in the strength the Lord gives us. In today's gospel, Jesus and the disciples keep travelling on after this moment of harsh reality.
Eventually they come to Capernaum, the home of Simon Peter. There, a strange little incident takes place. The half-shekel tax is the tax that every Jew in the time of Jesus paid annually towards the upkeep of the temple. On the one hand Jesus says that he and his followers are exempt from paying this tax, because Jesus himself is now the new temple. On the other hand, Jesus tells Peter to pay the tax so as not to offend the religious leaders. In other words, Jesus declares freedom in this regard but then recommends putting this freedom to one side for the moment so as not to give unnecessary offense. In that way Jesus reminds us that although we may be free in regard to certain matters, sometimes it can be right not to use our freedom when the good of others is at stake.