Monday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
The power of the example
When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t 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.” Mt 17,24-27
The today’s gospel reminds me of a scene which goes back twenty-five years ago, when I was working on a thermoelectric power plant in Saudi Arabia, on behalf of Ansaldo. The erection works were over and we were about to start the plant start-up phase, during which the risk of accidents in site significantly increases. So we limited the more risky area with some gates reserved for the staff to work. I though to locate one person at each entrance point, who would have nothing to do but to refuse the entrance to those who did not have an access permit card. Since, at least in those years, for the companies who pursued an activity in Saudi Arabia it was required to recruit a certain percentage of local staff, I had thought to use some Arabs, who were there doing nothing, for that job as guardians. Their service worked quite well, so much so that when I approached one of those entrance point without the access permit card, of which, as a leader, I thought to be excused, the Arab guard, with a smile under his mustache, did not allow me to enter. Then I pinned the access permit card and I entered. It is the same situation as described in the today gospel.
Jesus, Son of God, says to Peter: “‘What do you think, Simon? From whom the kings of the earth collect the taxes and the charges? From their sons or from the strangers?”. He answered: “From the strangers”. And Jesus replied: “Then the sons are exempted. But, to avoid to offend them, go to the sea, cast a hook and catch the first fish which comes up, open its mouth and you will find there a silver coin. Take it and give it to them on behalf of me and you”. Jesus, by paying the tax for the temple, today teaches to us a great rule: the notables should be the first to observe the rules and to pay the taxes, because this is right and because the ordinary people are not offended. For them, moreover, it is easier: they can always find some fish with the coin in the mouth which allows the payment.