Lectio Divina: Matthew 17:22-27
1) Opening prayer
Almighty and ever-living God,
your Spirit made us Your children,
confident to call You Father.
Increase Your Spirit within us
and bring us to our promised inheritance.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - 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."
• The five verses of today’s Gospel speak about two very different themes between them. (a) The second announcement of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus (Mt 17:22-23); and (b) they report Jesus’ conversation with Peter about paying the taxes and the dues to the temple (Mt 17:24-27).
• Matthew 17:22-23: The prediction of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The first prediction (Mt 16:21) had produced a strong reaction in Peter, who did not want to know anything about suffering nor the cross. Jesus had answered just as strongly: “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Mt 16:23). Here, in the second prediction, the reaction of the disciples is less strong, less aggressive. The prediction produces sadness. It seems that now they begin to understand that the cross forms part of the journey. The proximity of the death and the suffering weigh heavily on them, giving rise to a great discouragement. Even if Jesus tries to help them, the resistance of centuries against the idea of a crucified Messiah, was much greater.
• Matthew 17:24-25a: The question which the tax collectors ask Peter concerning the taxes. When they reached Capernaum, the tax collector of the taxes of the Temple asks Peter, “Does your Master not pay the half-shekel for the Temple?” Peter answered: “Yes.” From the time of Nehemiah (V Century BC), the Jews who had returned from the Babylonian exile committed themselves solemnly in the Assembly to pay the various taxes and dues in order to allow the Temple to continue to function and to take care of the maintenance both of the priestly service and of the building of the Temple. (Neh 10:33-40). From what we can see from Peter’s response, Jesus paid the taxes like any other Jew.
• Matthew 17:25b-26: Jesus’ question to Peter concerning the taxes. The conversation between Jesus and Peter is very strange. When they reach home, Jesus asked, “ Simon, what is your opinion? From whom do earthly kings take toll or tribute? From their sons or from foreigners?” Peter responds, “From foreigners.” And Jesus says, “Therefore, the sons are exempt!” Probably, here we can see a discussion among the Christian Jews before the destruction of the Temple in the year 70. They asked themselves if they had to continue to pay the taxes of the Temple, as they did before. By Jesus’ response they discover that they are not obliged to pay this tax: “The sons are exempt!” The sons are the Christians, but even if they are not obliged to pay, the recommendation of Jesus is to pay in order not to cause scandal.
• Matthew 17:27: The conclusion of the conversation on the paying of the tax. The solution which Jesus gives to this situation is even stranger. He tells Peter, “However, so that we shall not be the downfall of others, go to the lake and cast a hook: take the first fish that rises, open its mouth and there you will find a shekel; take it and give it to them for Me and for yourself.” This was a strange miracle, strange as that of the 2000 pigs which rushed down into the sea (Mk 5:13). Whichever is the interpretation of this miraculous fact, this way of resolving the problem suggests that it is a question that is not too important for Jesus.
4) Personal questions
• The suffering of the Cross discourages and saddens the disciples. Has this ever happened in your life?
• How do you interpret the episode of the coin found in the mouth of the fish?
• What is the significance of using a fish here? Is there meaning to this that would be lost if it were just a matter of finding or having a coin instead?
5) Concluding Prayer
Praise Yahweh from the heavens,
praise Him in the heights.
Praise Him, all His angels,
praise Him, all His host! (Ps 148:1-2)