Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Matthew 17:24–27

Matthew 17:24–27 (ESV): The Temple Tax

Synopsis

In this passage some tax collectors—the collectors of the “two drachma tax”—come up to Peter and ask him, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” (verse 24 (ESV)). Peter tells them that yes Jesus does pay the tax, and then comes into the house where Jesus is, but before Peter can even say anything, Jesus broaches the subject himself: “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” (verse 25 (ESV)). Peter answers that it’s from others, and Jesus responds that therefore the sons are free from it. But then Jesus says that Peter should pay the tax, so as “not to give offense to them,” and tells him to go and cast a fishing hook into the sea and take the first fish he catches which will have a shekel in its mouth. Peter is then to give that shekel to the tax collectors, to pay for both Jesus’ tax and his own.

Thoughts

I’m not sure why the tax collectors approach Peter in the way that they do; “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” Are they trying to trap Peter (and by extension Jesus) by getting him to say that Jesus won’t pay the tax, and try to get him arrested on tax evasion? Or was there some reason they were assuming he wouldn’t pay? The way the question is worded, it sounds like more than just “we’re here for the money, can we have it?”

I’ve never really been sure whether this passage says anything about Peter. When he answers the tax collectors that yes, Jesus does pay the tax, was it because he was afraid of them, or was he simply answering the question with the obvious truth about the situation? Because Jesus was definitely not against paying taxes, as this passage and 22:15–22 (ESV) indicate. (I wonder if my American readers will get annoyed with that statement…) It may be that I’m overthinking things because of other situations involving Peter, but at the same time, there is something strange (to my eyes) having to do with Peter in this passage. This is one instance where I wish the ESV Study Bible had some insight, but they’re silent on the issue. (Which is always the way with study Bibles, I find; any time there’s a topic I want information about, it’s something they don’t happen to mention. I must be atypical in terms of the type of information I look for…)

Actually, speaking of Americans (or any other people who don’t like taxes), I guess I should say something about the comment that “sons are free” from paying taxes; we can’t take this as a statement by Jesus that taxes are bad, or that people (or Christians, if that’s how you want to interpret “sons”) are free from paying taxes. One main reason we can’t take that stance is the aforementioned text at Matthew 22:15–22 (ESV) (the “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” passage). Jesus isn’t against taxes. What he is saying is that he—Jesus Christ—is God, the ruler of all the universe; it all belongs to him. What applies to us doesn’t really apply to him.

In this case, Matthew’s account doesn’t even bother to tell us the ending of the story, with Peter catching the fish and paying the tax. Not even a simple “… and it happened just as he said,” or something similar. It’s just assumed that things happened the way Jesus said they would.
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