Paying Our Own Temple Tax

Matthew 17:22-27
Ezk 1:2-5, 24-28 / Ps 148

What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?
(Matthew 17:25)

Jesus went to all the trouble--
A miracle to show what is right;
Paying taxes in the temple,
Was His example for paying tithes.

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?” He 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 children or from others?” Peter answered, “From others.” Jesus said, “Then the subjects are exempt. But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and you.” (Matthew 17:24-27)

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 population. But how ironic (and insulting) that the sinless Son of God would be taxed (to atone for what?) for the upkeep of His own dwelling. And yet, in His divine wisdom and great humility, Jesus told Peter, ‘but that we may not offend them…’ and He complied peaceably to the indignity and humiliation by these petty tax collectors with an appropriate miracle of producing the exact amount from the mouth of a fish!

It is interesting to note that among the Synoptic Gospel writers, it is only in the version of Matthew that we find this incident about the payment of the temple tax. Being a former tax collector himself, surely 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. At the same time, this incident was intended to be lessons in obedience, humility and the practice of tithing. 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 by the church.

Our Lord employed every event and circumstance that He encountered in His brief life on earth to impart an important lesson, including the devious schemes that His detractors and enemies used to entrap Him. By submitting to the temple tax, He showed that no one is exempt from supporting His church in the giving of tithes. ‘That we may not offend,’ He said, using the plural to mean that it must be imitated by all His followers. As the old saw goes, may we put our money where our mouth is.

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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