How easy it is for me to see the glory of God in creation, but with all humility, I admit, it is a bit more challenging to find God’s glory in the human person. And yet, during Mass at the cathedral yesterday, I was acutely aware of God’s glory in his people as I gazed out at the congregation during the chanting of the Responsorial Psalm: “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.”
Pope Francis is regularly reminding us to serve Christ in one another, particularly in the poor and marginalized. He calls upon each of us to be Christ to one another. These challenges from Pope Francis are grounded in our belief that the dignity of the human person originates in God, who creates each of us in his image and likeness.
In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus reminded us of another blessing, namely, that ‘your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.’ Wow, we are recipients of God’s eternal kingdom!
In our world today, we seem to have plenty of people who are quick to point out all of the divisions, hatred and failures of individuals, nations and institutions. When we are bombarded with such regular news coverage, is it any wonder we can be challenged to find good in the world, or in every person? We need a daily diet of God’s Word as a reminder that everything and everyone God has created is good, indeed, very good!
When we come to believe in God, and that God created us in the divine image, and created us for an eternal kingdom, we then have the correct lens with which to view the world, our self and to properly see every one else. Such a proper anthropology (understanding of the human person) builds healthy self-esteem complimented with a greater willingness and ability to love and serve one’s neighbor.
Today’s Gospel (Matthew 17:22-27) takes these two truths of human dignity and the eternal kingdom and pulls them together once again. Peter is approached by the collectors of the temple tax who ask him if Jesus pays the temple tax or not. Jesus later speaks to Peter about the same question. Jesus asks Peter: “What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?” the answer is ‘the foreigners’ meaning, the ‘subjects’ are exempt.
To properly understand this passage, we must go back to the original language, because the translation does not properly capture the message. We must also realize the Divine origin of Jesus. He is the Son of God, not the son of an earthly ruler. The temple is where the Jews worship God.
In biblical times, the king’s sons did not pay taxes, only the citizens of the kingdom. In Jesus’ question to Peter, he is clearly claiming his heavenly origin as the Son of God. The word ‘subjects’ should translate as ‘sons,’ and the word ‘foreigners’ should translate as ‘others.’ Thus, Jesus claims to be exempt from the temple tax precisely because he is the Son of God, yet with all humility, he agrees to pay the tax.
All of this helps us recall the divine origin of Jesus. Jesus has redeemed us, and adopted us as brothers and sisters, making us sons and daughters of God, and members of an eternal kingdom.
St. Paul speaks of the royal dignity that is ours as children of God.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Let us be mindful of the dignity that is ours, and demonstrate our gratitude by living with dignity and elevating the dignity of others through humble service.