After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” – Matthew 17:24-27
It has been a while since I have posted to this blog. No good reason, I think I just allowed myself to become distracted by the “waves” of life. I sank quietly into the sea while Jesus’ hand was reaching out to me the entire time. It is time for me to grab it and get back in the boat.
I have been reading a book lately called Twelve Ordinary Men about the 12 apostles by John MacArthur. Peter, my namesake was given the name Peter by Jesus, although his name at birth was Simon. In the book the author points out that the name used by Jesus often reflects a spiritual dimension. For example in this passage Jesus asks a question of “Simon” giving Peter a chance to demonstrate his spiritual sagacity. Apparently Peter answered wisely as the account uses “Peter” for the response.
The issue here is taxes, a subject right up there with root canals and rheumatism. I am not sure anyone really likes paying taxes, but most of us recognize that it is a necessary evil. The issue here is a “temple tax”. This was a tax outlined in the old testament (Nehemiah) to be paid by Jewish males over the age of 20 each year to help maintain the temple. Interestingly, the reference in Nehemiah talks about the “tax” money being necessary to pay “for the bread set out on the table; for the regular grain offerings and burnt offerings; for the offerings on the Sabbaths, at the New Moon feasts and at the appointed festivals; for the holy offerings; for sin offerings to make atonement for Israel; and for all the duties of the house of our God.”
So the temple is collecting money to provide the atonement being freely offered by this young upstart from Galilee, Jesus. Jesus is essentially saying that is like taxing your own children. Members of a family are supposed to provide for one another out of love, no taxes should be necessary. The temple has become transactional rather than transformational. Jesus is seeking transformational change in both the temple and his followers.
Peter’s answer that “the children are exempt” was apparently the correct answer. It acknowledged that the followers of Jesus were both children of the temple (Jewish people) and redeemed (exempted) by the One that they followed, Jesus. Rather than rock the boat Jesus chose to pay the temple tax through a miraculous means. Through this miracle Jesus both provided the temple the support it needed and demonstrated to Peter the true source of the temple’s support.
The take home message for me is that we should support churches and organizations that facilitate transformational change. We should not allow the services these entities provide to become transactional. These places should be more like a home where people gather for something like a family reunion. A place where God’s children gather to reconnect and build relationships.
Prayer: God help us to build transformational structures that provide more than transactions