As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
(Matthew 17:22-27 ESV)
Today’s passage from Matthew comprises two different scenes. In the first, Jesus gives His disciples some bad news followed by some good news. He reminds them that He is about to be delivered into the hands of men who will kill Him. As we’ve recently read, Jesus had told them this before [Matthew 16:21]. But then He gives them the good news, as He had on those previous occasions: He will be raised on the third day.
The disciples were greatly distressed. They obviously understood that Jesus was saying He was going to die. Perhaps they were distressed about Jesus’ death. Or perhaps they were concerned about what would happen to them, having aligned themselves with Him for these three years. But in any case, they clearly did not understand that Jesus would rise from the dead. Such news should have given them hope rather than anxiety.
But we can’t blame them for not understanding. Who would ever have thought that a human being could die and come back to life? Jesus’ words would have made no sense to them. It wasn’t until Jesus actually rose from the dead that His words made any sense [Luke 24:6-8].
In the next scene, Jesus is approached by tax-collectors wondering if Jesus will pay the tax that was assessed to every male twenty years or older in Israel, as commanded by God [Exodus 30:13-15]. Even though Peter spontaneously claims that Jesus pays this tax, he was mistaken.
Jesus was not obligated to pay the tax because the temple belonged to God. As God’s son, Jesus would have been except as parents don’t collect such usage fees from their children. Here is another statement by Jesus about His deity. Since offspring are the same as their parents (e.g. zebras create zebras) Jesus is claiming to be deity, as God is, by claiming to be His son.
But even though Jesus did not legally have to pay the tax, He pays it anyway so as to not give offense to the Jews. It was Jesus’ right to not pay the tax. But He paid it simply because not doing so would have created controversy.
This is a great lesson for us today. It’s better to make an unnecessary sacrifice to avoid getting someone upset than it is to stand for your rights. Rather than hold onto our “rights” we should be more interested in preserving relationships. This is exactly what Jesus did when He came to earth [Philippians 2:5-8].
Finally, note that this passage provides some anecdotal evidence as to the age of the disciples. Only men twenty-years and older were required to pay the tax. Of the twelve disciples, plus Jesus, only Jesus and Peter paid the tax. Both were therefore, over 20 years old (we know Jesus was about 30 [Luke 3:23]). The other ten disciples, therefore, could very well have been teenagers.
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