Paying the Temple Tax
24 When Jesus and the others arrived in Capernaum, the collectors for the temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Does your teacher pay the temple tax?”
25“Yes, he does,” Peter answered.
After they had returned home, Jesus went up to Peter and asked him, “Simon, what do you think? Do the kings of this earth collect taxes and fees from their own people or from foreigners?”
26Peter answered, “From foreigners.”
Jesus replied, “Then their own people don't have to pay. 27But we don't want to cause trouble. So go cast a line into the lake and pull out the first fish you hook. Open its mouth, and you will find a coin. Use it to pay your taxes and mine.”
“Does your teacher pay the temple tax?”What an uncomfortable question for Peter to be asked. If he says, “No,” Jesus might be branded as a rebellious Jew, unwilling to contribute towards the temple upkeep. If he says, “Yes,” Jesus would have to come up with the equivalent of two days’ pay – not exactly pocket change. Also, Jesus would be lumped in with every other Jew in Palestine, one subject to the letter of the law. Hoping it’s the right answer, Peter replies, “Yes, he does.”
Jesus is quick to reassure Peter. He reaffirms his unique status as the son and heir of God, someone with no obligation to pay taxes in his own kingdom. But it’s better, Jesus points out, not to offend unnecessarily. Then he miraculously produces a coin from the mouth of a fish – enough to pay his own tax and Peter’s too.
Sometimes we face these dilemmas as Christians. Controversies come up. Some are small, and some seem bigger. We may get asked to fulfill a requirement that we believe doesn’t really matter to God. Maybe it’s a Christian workplace that bans tattoos, or a church with an old-fashioned dress code. How should we respond? Jesus shows us by his example. First, remember who you are: a child and heir of the King. You don’t need to follow rules to be saved or to belong. Next, don’t offend people if you can help it. If it’s not a big deal to God, then it doesn’t need to be a big deal to us either. We can trust the God who provided the coin in the mouth of the fish. He’ll give us the grace and wisdom we need to honor others and stay true to who we are in Christ.
God in heaven, Your own Son didn’t hold on to his status but made himself nothing for my sake. Help me to reflect the character of Jesus, not clinging to my freedom, but honoring others above myself. In the name of your Son Jesus, Amen.