From the Mouth of a Fish

Matthew 17: 22-27
Dt 10: 12-22 / Psa 147

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

Jesus endured the indignity
Of submitting to all human laws
But showed His divine sovereignty
Paying the tax from a creature’s jaws.

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said, “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?” Peter answered, “From others.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. 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

Jesus kept reminding His apostles about His impending passion and death in Jerusalem, and His resurrection after three days. This news saddened the apostles deeply, but none of them found the courage to question the Lord. They continued to follow Him to Capernaum. In Capernaum, the Jewish tax collectors approached Peter for his and the Lord’s payment of the temple tax. This levy was an old Mosaic practice wherein 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. How ironic that the 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 and great humility, He complied with this indignity. However, with an appropriate miracle, Jesus demonstrated His sovereignty over creation by producing the exact amount from the mouth of a fish! This demonstration was clearly for the benefit of St. Peter, whom the Lord was priming to become His foremost fisher of men.

Among the four Gospel writers, it is only in the version of Matthew that 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 fulfilling our obligations. If Jesus Himself willingly complied 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 and community.

May the Gospel passage today be a lesson to us, that we should obey the laws and customs of our city and country so that like Jesus we may set an example to unbelievers as well as violators who profess and 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 atonement of sins. He would soon pay for the greater atonement of all our sins, a payment that He Himself would provide, and at the cost that mankind could never repay.

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

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