The Temple Tax

Matthew 17: 22-27
Ezek 1: 2-5, 24-28 / Ps 148: 1-2, 11-14

“From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?”
(Matthew 17:25)

Jesus went to all the trouble--
With a miracle to pay the tithe.
Paying taxes for the temple,
Was His example for living right.

When they came together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief. After Jesus and His disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” Peter replied, “Yes, he does.” 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 sons or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not offend them, 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: 22-27)

Reflection

The temple tax was an old Mosaic practice that all Jews were required to pay as atonement for sins (Exodus 30:11–16). The collections of this tax were used for the maintenance of the temple in Jerusalem. The amount was quite small, intended to be affordable to the general public. But how ironic that the pure and sinless Son of God would be taxed for the upkeep of His own dwelling. And to atone for what? And yet, in His divine wisdom, knowing Peter’s predicament, ‘but that we may not offend them…’ He complied in all humility so that He could be one in our humanity. But with an appropriate miracle, He demonstrated His sovereignty over creation by predicting and producing the exact amount from the mouth of a fish!

Take note that among the four Gospel writers, it is only in the version of Matthew where we find this incident about the payment of the temple tax. Perhaps being a former tax collector himself, Matthew could not let this incident pass unrecorded. For the benefit of his Jewish readers, he probably wanted to show that the Messiah, true to His word, was always faithful in observing the law in all respects. Recall another time in another Gospel when Jesus said, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God” (Luke 20:25). These incidents in our Lord’s life were all intended to be lessons in obedience, humility and the practice of paying our taxes. If Jesus Himself would willingly comply with ‘petty’ man-made laws, then no one was exempted from paying all dues, whether required by the state or for the support of our local church.

Today’s Gospel passage provides an important lesson for us: that we should obey the laws of our city and country — as long as they are not contrary to the teachings of our Church — so that like Jesus we may set an example to unbelievers as well as violators who call themselves Christians. To be a good Christian is to be a good citizen, to live in the world and be subject to all its legal and ethical regulations. Although our Lord did not belong to the world, He submitted to its rules as a good citizen. Although He was sinless, He paid the temple tax, which was for the atonement of sins. He would soon pay for the greater atonement of all of our sins, a payment that only He could provide, and at a cost that mankind could never repay.

Timeless lessons from our timeless God, may we live them faithfully in our lives, so that we will always give You the glory, loving Father. Amen.

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