On the fifth day, the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the Lord came to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was on him there.
As I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing out continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber. In the middle of it was something like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form. When they moved, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of mighty waters, like the thunder of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army; when they stopped, they let down their wings. And there came a voice from above the dome over their heads; when they stopped, they let down their wings. And above the dome over their heads there was something like a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form.
Upward from what appeared like the loins I saw something like gleaming amber, something that looked like fire enclosed all around; and downward from what looked like the loins I saw something that looked like fire, and there was a splendour all around. Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendour all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking.
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. However, 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."
Ezekiel's inaugural vision offers us a strangely memorable sense of the awesome splendour of God, like some majestic potentate travelling across the desert to accompany his people into exile. Yet this prophet also turned out to be a man of practical detail, charting Israel's future after the Babylonian exile. In his blueprint, God's glory “dwells” not just in the Jerusalem temple but wherever his people are forced to wander.
Jesus accepted the temple tradition and told Peter to pay the temple tax for both of them; but Jesus too gave hints that the Father's intentions reached far beyond the temple. This gospel suggests that the transition from a single elect people to a beloved family of all nations would not be easily achieved. The Son of Man must be put to death, before it can be made a reality.
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. [MH]