The Holy Martyr Maximilian Kolbe,
Artwork by Antonio Girardi,
Painted in 1984,
Oil on canvas
© Alamy

The Holy Martyr Maximilian Kolbe,
Artwork by Antonio Girardi,
Painted in 1984,
Oil on canvas
© Alamy

Gospel of 14 August 2023

Feast of Saint Maximilian Kolbe

Matthew 17:22-27

One day when they were together in Galilee, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The Son of Man is going to be handed over into the power of men; they will put him to death, and on the third day he will be raised to life again.’ And a great sadness came over them.

When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the half-shekel came to Peter and said, ‘Does your master not pay the half-shekel?’ ‘Oh yes’ he replied, and went into the house. But before he could speak, Jesus said, ‘Simon, what is your opinion? From whom do the kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their sons or from foreigners?’ And when he replied, ‘From foreigners’, Jesus said, ‘Well then, the sons are exempt. However, so as not to offend these people, go to the lake and cast a hook; take the first fish that bites, open its mouth and there you will find a shekel; take it and give it to them for me and for you.’

Reflection on the painting

Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Saint Maximilian Kolbe (born Raymund Kolbe) was a Polish Conventual Franciscan Friar. During the German occupation of Poland, he remained at Niepokalanów a monastery which helped to hide, feed and clothe 3,000 Polish refugees, (of which approximately 1,500 were Jews). In 1941, their newspaper “The Knight of the Immaculate” offered strong criticism of the Nazis.

In 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo for hiding Jewish people and sent to Auschwitz, where in the most horrific of settings he continued to work as a priest and offer solace to fellow inmates. On June 15, he was even able to send a letter to his mother which reads:

Dear Mama, At the end of the month of May I was transferred to the camp of Auschwitz. Everything is well in my regard. Be tranquil about me and about my health, because the good God is everywhere and provides for everything with love. It would be well that you do not write to me until you will have received other news from me, because I do not know how long I will stay here. Cordial greetings and kisses, affectionately. Raymund.”

In July 1941, three prisoners appeared to have escaped from the camp; as a result, the Deputy Commander of Auschwitz ordered 10 men to be chosen to be starved to death in an underground bunker. When one of the selected men Franciszek Gajowniczek heard he was selected, he cried out “My wife! My children!” At this point, Kolbe volunteered to take his place, and he would lead the men in prayer and singing hymns to Mary. From the underground cell in which they were shut up there continually arose the echo of prayers, songs and canticles. They all died shortly after. Franciszek Gajowniczek would miraculously survive Auschwitz, and would later be present at Kolbe’s canonisation in 1982.

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.

Share this Gospel Reading

Did you like this Gospel reading and art reflection?

Join in the discussion about this artwork & Gospel reading

Subscribe
Notify of
74 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Anthony
Member
Anthony
8 months ago

My grandaughter at Catholic senior school, was in Kolbe house. Her RE teacher told her that Maximilian Kolbe was sent to the death camp because he was jewish, and that he was executed because someone had escaped. I told her the true story, but she was too afraid to write it in her work in case she was marked as incorrect. Sad!

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
8 months ago
Reply to  Anthony

It certainly is sad.

Ana G
Member
Ana G
8 months ago

I don’t think Jesus did any magic tricks. I think that the reading has a strong symbolic content.

Keep in mind that the tax you have to pay is not Caesar’s tax (a civil tax paid by the Jews to the Romans) that appears elsewhere in the gospel, but a tax paid by the Jews to their religious authorities to maintenance of the temple, and contains a different teaching. Did Jesus, who was the living Temple of God, have to pay to maintain the Jewish stone temple? Obviously not. That is why Jesus says that if it is a tax, not for Caesar, but for God, he, who is his son, does not have to pay it.

At the same time, he does not want to offend people who are collecting the tax in good faith. He’s already gotten himself into enough trouble with the temple for his confrontation with the religious elite to confuse him now, thinking that he wants to avoid paying the religious tax.

And he looks for a very elegant solution: he pays for it, but not out of his own pocket, but –as if we were to say- “out of God’s pocket”. Here the miracle is not so much that a fish has swallowed a coin (they swallow everything, you know, especially shiny things, and it could have swallowed a coin dropped in a shipwreck) but the knowledge that this fish is hanging around. The same as in “the miraculous fishing” he knows where to cast the nets. What he is doing with that is showing Peter that this omniscience is because he really is the Son of God.

Jesus, despite knowing that he was not obligated, pays with a shekel, the same type of Jewish coin with which Judas will buy the death of Jesus. A death that he did not reciprocate, because he had done nothing wrong.

The same thing that Maximilian Kolbe paid with his life, not being forced, out of pure compassion, following the example of Jesus. He was someone else who had to be executed. Perhaps the man in the foreground is the one who saved, because he is outside the fence, while he stays inside.

In the painting, everything is sadness and death (the squalor of the child, the barbed wire, the desolate gesture of the man in the foreground…). But in the middle stands serene the figure of the saint, full of light in his tunic and his head. The sweetness of his childish face contrasts with his expression of concern, as if asking about the cruelty of which we humans are capable. Some are present, indeed, in our inability to welcome foreigners, to avoid wars, famines, and diseases… Yes, surely Saint Maximilian continues with that gesture. Help us to be effectively compassionate!

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
8 months ago
Reply to  Ana G

Thanks Ana for that explanation about the half-shekel. However, Jesus refers to foreigners paying the tax, and that is what confused me. I do see your explanation though, and a very important exchange between Jesus and Peter, with Jeus revealing His true nature in this hidden way. Now you have made me see!
We recently had a discussion about the fish, and its importance in both Old and New Testaments, so that was something else I overlooked this morning. There was so much to see and think about! Thank you.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
8 months ago
Reply to  Ana G

Thank you for that Ana. Most interesting.

Noelle Clemens
Member
Noelle Clemens
8 months ago
Reply to  Ana G

Thanks, Ana, for making the story of the shekel and the fish so much clearer.🌻

Rya Lucas
Member
Rya Lucas
8 months ago

I tried to read all your comments. What me touched so deep was the story of Saint Maximiliaan. The history of WW2, the fate of the jewish people, the cruelties that came up in human minds becaming normal for the people in charge, so many civilians who tried to help others and were killed, too many soldiers who fall in battle, the many people who died of hunger and torture in the concentration camps, the many people who died of hunger during the hungerwinter 1944/1945… and so many terrible things that happened during the last worldwar.
I know it all and I only can cry and cry and cry… as I did to-day… I hope so passionate that they are all in the House of Light and Love under protection of Jesus. And I pray for their surviving relatives, who have to live with their grief… I feel so pity for them.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
8 months ago
Reply to  Rya Lucas

Nice to hear from you Rya!

Will Howard
Member
Will Howard
8 months ago

a PS,
the second reading from the Office today is such a TESTAMENT – an excerpt:
“I rejoice greatly, dear brother, at the outstanding zeal that drives you to promote the glory of God. It is sad to see how in our times the disease called “indifferentism” is spreading in all its forms, not just among those in the world but also among the members of religious orders. But indeed, since God is worthy of infinite glory, it is our first and most pressing duty to give him such glory as we, in our weakness, can manage – even though we would never, poor exiled creatures that we are, be able to render him such glory as he truly deserves. …”

Will Howard
Member
Will Howard
8 months ago

In Universalis’s preamble ‘about today’ addressing our Saint’s legacy, it offers:
“Maximilian Kolbe’s martyrdom is the least important thing about him. We are none of us likely to find ourselves in a position to emulate his sacrifice, and speculation as to the heroic way in which we would have behaved in his place is a pernicious waste of time. ”

I take great exception to this otherwise well intentioned contribution. It is flagrantly naïve! It is like saying that the crucifixion is the least important thing about Christ!!

In Girardi’s work we see a sort of trinity of persons, flanked by the wood of the cross and arrayed in aura-like barbed wire. These are, ‘ well not wasting their time’, as they, through the eyes of Maximilian, stare out squarely from their crucifixion of Auschwitz. A ‘Father holds the son’ … and someone’s son, is bent in the foreground contemplating, gethsemane-like, his own end … even though he has apparently traversed the barbed wire.

None of us escape this life suffering. We are baptized into the death of Christ; the blood and water of our entrance into this world assure us of our own ultimate martyrdom – like it, know it, or not. And, I think, the way this world is going, there is an ever greater chance of emulating the great Martyrs of history. Having a private devotion to ‘St Max’ I ask him daily to intercede for my weakness, and gain for me his ‘heroism’, courage and fearlessness … on the day when it will need it most.

After all … why was Jesus always on about, “‘The Son of Man [his truly man-side] is going to be handed over into the power of men; they will put him to death,” ???

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
8 months ago
Reply to  Will Howard

Great insight Will- thank you.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
8 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

Agreed 🙂

Christine H
Christine H
8 months ago

I was researching the artist who painted this haunting scene (I did not find much but did not have the time to continue my research). You may like to see this other one he painted, identified as: “This painting of St. Maximilian Kolbe and Our Lady of Lourdes by A. Girardi (1984) hangs in Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi in Brescia, Italy. ”

comment image

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
8 months ago
Reply to  Christine H

Thank you for your hard work Christine! However commenting on one painting a day was enough- so I won’t attempt tp start on this one!

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
8 months ago
Reply to  Christine H

Very interesting Christine. Is that a crown of thorns that Our Lady is giving him?

Jamie Cardinal
Member
Jamie Cardinal
8 months ago
Reply to  Christine H

In 1906, the young Raymund Kolbe (who we would know as St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe) experienced a vision of Our Lady and in the vision he was offered two crowns by Our Lady: the white crown of a life of heroic virtue, and the red crown of martyrdom. Years later, Maximilian Kolbe described the incident : “That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.” As well he did. St. Maximilian Kolbe pray for us.

Liliana Lazzaro
Member
Liliana Lazzaro
8 months ago
Reply to  Christine H

Que belleza!!!!!

Polly French
Member
Polly French
8 months ago
Reply to  Christine H

Very interesting Christine. Thank you so much. I must research this. What a beautiful painting depicting love and compassion.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
8 months ago

This is a photo of him.

web3-father-saint-maximillian-kolbe-wikipedia-.jpg
spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
8 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

It is good that we have these photographed saints- makes them all so real, which, of course they were (still are!)

John Hobbs
Member
John Hobbs
8 months ago

How do I follow some of the very erudite analyses of today’s artwork?
My first take was a hint of “cubism” in everything but Kolbe’s face. It also resembles a style similar to that used in propaganda posters of the time.
Once I read the explanatory text, the first words to enter my swede were “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life etc”!
My resulting bidding prayers, if you like, are for the world’s leaders and governments to be guided by God so as not to exploit sections of society in pursuit of populism, and in the treatment of displaced persons.
I also ask for the strength of faith that if I was confronted with the same situation I would do the right, selfless thing by Him.
Best to all, John

Noelle Clemens
Member
Noelle Clemens
8 months ago
Reply to  John Hobbs

Hello John. I agree about the cubist element.
Every time I post, trying to understand/appreciate the work of art and the gospel, I think “this is really inadequate”, but it helps me to try and work things out, vis-à-vis art and faith, and I always hope it may be of use to others – God willing. And I learn so much from you all. So, with heartfelt thanks. 🌻

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
8 months ago
Reply to  Noelle Clemens

Your ponderings, help our ponderings Noelle!

Noelle Clemens
Member
Noelle Clemens
8 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Gracias, Chazbo, y usted tambien. 🌻

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
8 months ago
Reply to  Noelle Clemens

Tu hablas español! Yo solo un poco!

Michael Trudeau
Member
Michael Trudeau
8 months ago

What a testimony to being able to be content in all things (Philippians 4)! And what a jarring image, conveying the love of Christ even while in hell on earth!

Anthony
Member
Anthony
8 months ago

Jesus did not play tricks on people.

Zeffi
Member
Zeffi
8 months ago
Reply to  Anthony

He is Truth. Tricks are lies. To call into question one miracle of Jesus is to cast doubt on all.

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
8 months ago
Reply to  Zeffi

Indeed

Readings related to Matthew 17:22-27

8 August 2022

Matthew 17:22-27

Does your master not pay the half-shekel?

6 August 2023

Matthew 17:1-9

Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ

12 August 2023

Matthew 17:14-20

You could say to this mountain, "Move from here...

14 December 2019

Matthew 17:10-13

Elijah has come already and they did not recogn...

Join our community

In addition to receiving our Daily Gospel Reading and Art Reflection, signing up for a free membership allows you to: 

The mission of Christian Art is to offer a daily Gospel Reading paired with a related work of art and a short reflection. Our goal is to help people grow closer to God through the magnificent pairing of art and the Christian faith.

CONNECT WITH US

Join over 70,000 people who receive our daily Gospel Reading and Art Reflection

Skip to content