August 19, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: Instructing the Apostles

See Matthew 17:24-18:35, Mark 9:33-50, Luke 9:46-50 & 15:1-7

In my past four columns, I’ve written about Jesus’ journeys through Gentile territory as he tried to instruct his Apostles.

Now, in the passages cited above, he returns to his home base in Capernaum. Deeply engrossed in thought, Jesus had walked ahead of the Apostles, but he was aware that they had been arguing.

He asked what they had been arguing about, but they kept silent because they had argued about which of them was the greatest. Jesus must have been near despair at this point. Hadn’t these men understood anything? Obviously, he had some more instructing to do.

He emphasized that leadership in his Church meant service: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” A half millennium later, Pope Gregory the Great summarized this teaching, calling himself “the servant of the servants of God.”

This is what Jesus had in mind for the leaders of his Church. To drive the point across, Jesus placed a child in their midst and said, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.”

Children were the symbol he used for the poor and the lowly in the Christian community that was to come.

But who was to provide service to the lowly? He had earlier told Peter that he would build his Church on him, and now he seems to underline his selection. The collectors of the temple tax asked Peter if Jesus paid the tax and Peter said yes, but then Jesus discussed the matter with Peter.

According to the Law of Moses (Ex 30:13-15), every male over 19 was obliged to make a contribution of a half-shekel for the building of the Tabernacle for the Ark of the Covenant, which had become a payment for the upkeep of the temple. But Jesus reminded Peter that kings didn’t take tax money from their subjects (boy, they sure do today!), but from foreigners. Since Jesus was the Son of God, why should he pay tribute to his own Father?

Of course, the tax collectors didn’t know about Jesus’ unique relationship so he told Peter to go catch a fish and in its mouth would be a coin worth twice the temple tax—so he could pay for both of them.

Jesus still had some other instructions for the Apostles. With the parable of the Good Shepherd, he taught them that every soul matters and they must go after those who stray. He told them that they must counsel a brother who sins, and forgive him if he repents as many as 70 times 7 times—that is, an unlimited number of times.

The parable of the unforgiving servant stresses what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Jesus really meant that we will be forgiven only as we forgive others.

With these instructions, Jesus was finished with his mission in Galilee. †


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