Youth Will Be Served!

Today, I want to take you to a rather unusual story about an encounter between Jesus, the Apostle Peter and some local tax collectors from the Temple in Jerusalem.  But don’t worry, it’s not a terribly long passage, and I don’t plan to discuss anything related to either taxes or Tea Parties.

They came to Capernaum, where the officials who collected the Temple tax approached Peter.

“Your teacher pays the Temple tax, doesn’t he?  They asked.

“Yes,” he replied

When he came into the house, Jesus spoke first.  “What do you think, Simon?  When the kings of the world collect taxes or duties, who do thy collect them from?  From their own families, or from outsiders?”

“From outsiders,” he replied.

“Well then,” said Jesus, “that means the families are free.  But we don’t want to give them offense, do we?  So why don’t you go down to the sea and cast out a hook?  The first fish you catch, open its mouth and you’ll find a coin.  Take that and give it to them for the two of us.”

See, that wasn’t too bad.  Now, before we dive in, let me just openly admit that what I am about to discuss is not the main focus of this passage.  Generally speaking, when people talk about this text, they talk about things like whether or not Christians should pay taxes, or what Jesus is claiming about the disciples when he refers to them as “families,” or about the miracle of finding a coin in the mouth of a fish.  These are all excellent things to discuss, but I don’t want to talk about any of that.  I want to talk about something else that lies just beneath the surface of the text.

Two quick things before I do that:

  1. This tax is explicitly discussed in Exodus 30:13-16.  We’ll come back to that in a minute.
  2. In the ancient world, a disciple always follows the lead of his rabbi.    The entire purpose of discipleship is to become like the rabbi by doing everything the rabbi does.  So if the rabbi decides to do something, you can be sure that the disciples will do it as well.

Now, look back on the text from Matthew.  Who pays the tax?  Jesus and Peter, right?  But ask yourself this: why would only one disciple pay the tax if the rabbi had consented to pay it?  Wouldn’t we expect all of the disciples to pay it?  Think about it.  If the whole point of being a disciple in the ancient Jewish culture is to do exactly what the rabbi does, why would the other disciples not pay the tax like Peter?  Let’s look at the Exodus passage, and see if we can’t find the answer.

Everyone … is to pay this: a half shekel according to the [current exchange rate offered by the] sanctuary.  The half shekel is to be an offering to the Lord. Everyone … from twenty years old and up is to pay an offering to the Lord.

Did you see it?  “Everyone from twenty years old and up is to pay an offering to the Lord.”  But only Jesus and Peter pay the tax.  So what this means is that amongst the Messiah’s inner core of followers, only Peter is older than twenty.  The rest … well, the rest are all still “kids.”

Now think about the implications of that.  If you were a leader seeking to “change the world,” would you choose a bunch of a “kids?”  Would you entrust them to be the ones to carry on your message after you had gone away?  Why?  What do you believe to be true about “kids?” 

For the curious among you, this is a tetra drachma, the type of coin found in the mouth of the fish.

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20 Responses to Youth Will Be Served!

  1. ShortSyssa says:

    Wow…wow, I have never heard that part if the Jesus story. Jesus choosing young boys to lead the world. I guess he was trying to make a statement about coming in peace.

  2. If you like that, just wait ’til we get to the calling of Timothy in class!

  3. That’s really interesting…I’d never seen that before. Obviously, Jesus knew what He was doing when He chose His disciples. Maybe part of the reason Jesus chose kids to carry on the Gospel message can be seen in the way that Willie Wonka chose Charlie to take over the chocolate factory. Perhaps Jesus saw the excitement in these children and the care they took in learning the Gospel, just as Willie Wonka saw that Charlie wanted to protect the candy…not sell it for his own benefit. Also, children are more teachable, the things we learn as children will largely shape our lives later. In WWII, Hitler chose young children to create his ideal race. He chose these children because they were young and had no solid training or beliefs yet. Jesus’s intent was clearly much different than this, but perhaps He chose children because He knew they would accept His beliefs, unlike the older Pharisees who only laughed and mocked Him.

    • Sadly Bethany, you have no idea how much truth is packed in the words you just wrote. The older you get, the more and more you will see how resistant “older people” are to new ideas that force them to rethink their worldviews. Quite honestly, that is one of the reasons that I so enjoy teaching you guys at the Classical Consortium. Think about how many “new ideas” I’ve put forth in our class this year and now think about how far you’ve come in terms of understanding the bigger themes in Scripture. My prayer for you is that you remember these words that you have written and that you commit yourself to being a different kind of adult when your time finally comes. Thanks for posting.

    • ShortSyssa says:

      Really nice examples. I totally agree with you.

  4. Matt E says:

    Where does it say that the others did not pay the tax? Are we assuming that if they did it would have said so?

  5. Yes, Matt. It is an argument from silence, but it’s an argument that I believe holds weight. Why would Jesus perform a miracle that covers only Peter and Himself, while leaving the other disciples to fend for themselves? It doesn’t make sense. If more than two of them needed to make the payment, why would he perform a miracle that only partially “covered the cost.” It would have left Him open to all sorts of ridicule. Moreover, from the text, we know that the coin was a “tetra drachma,” which was the exact amount required to pay for two people. So the amount of the coin isn’t in question. The coin was enough for two and two only.

    P.S. Just because this is the kind of thing that interests me, I have just updated the post to include a picture of the the tetra drachma. Call me a geek.

  6. Doug says:

    Good stuff Scott, I’d never seen these passages from that perspective. Young people have passion. They are teachable. They are less tethered to the concerns and hang-ups that come with being 40+. They generally have more energy. And at the end of the day, it seems from Scripture the younger you are, the more you have that child-like “I believe you no matter what” faith that is exemplified in crawling onto the Master’s lap because you know He cares for you no matter what.

  7. This was so interesting!! Never saw how that related to Exodus before reading this post! From stories told in Sunday school or even movies, we picture the disciples as middle-age men with scruffy beards. Maybe this is where “have faith like a child” in Matthew comes in? And also maybe he chose youth to be His disciples so that, by the time He ascended back into Heaven, the disciples won’t be very old or even dead. So, they can be an example to others having the personal experience of being a disciple of Christ. Hm. Very fascinating.

  8. So why do you think he chose “kids” Butterfly? Why not choose the Law Makers of his day? Or the rabbis? Why choose a bunch of “kids?” And what does that mean in terms of your own life? What does He think you’re capable of doing for the Kingdom? Ever think of that?

  9. I was thinking that part of the reason he chose “kids” was so that by the time He ascended into Heaven, they wouldn’t be so old or even dead. So they could continue to spread the news being an “experienced” and legitmate disciple of Christ and have a longer time to spread the Gospel.

    One other thought: kids view adults as authoritative (well some kids do at least) and look up to them more than adults do to children. Clear fact. Christ was young when He ascended into Heaven (33 years of age I believe), therefore when He was doing His work on earth, He wasn’t qualified as “middle-aged” yet. Even so Jesus, who was older and wiser, was an authoritative figure in their life. They looked up to Him as both an “older” man and Savior. After all, He is fully-God and fully-man. If God used “rabbis”, they would obviously still view Christ as the Savior and authoritative, but it would still be different. The way they see things would be different than those of a kid. He would probably be more of a teacher to the kids, than the adults. Still questioning myself about the last sentence…

    Does that all make sense? Thousands of thoughts were soaring through my head at once and it was a bit hard unscrabbling them and putting it into words. – Rebecca

  10. Bob Bryant says:

    Truly I think this idea falls on the ears of our culture that does not value its young people. We live in a culture where our children are seen and not heard. Case in point, this sickening case that unfolds at Penn State University where nobody wants to speak up on behalf of these children, but rather pass it off to the next person, all the while allowing more and more children’s lives to be shattered.

    Even in the church, it is often spoken that the children or youth are the future of the church. And so we segregate our youth off into the basements and far recesses of the church to relational time and video games and pizza parties. I read an interesting article the other day about the unintended consequences of “relational only” youth ministry of the 80’s and the emergent church movement that is mainly composed of those kids all grown up and attempting to deconstruct church. Some interesting thoughts and questions that he posed for sure.

    Here is the link if you are interested: Youth Ministry & the Law of Unintended Consequences (Pt. 1) – SKYEBOX

    By the way, I appreciated the provocative picture of the youth as the disciples were definitely the outcasts of their day.

  11. In one sense, I’m tracking with you, Bob. I do believe that our society, as a whole, undervalues children. And I do believe that in many sectors, children are to “be seen and not heard.” But I’m not sure that this is the case with the church. My personal suspicion is that we are full of fear. We’re afraid that they will get corrupted by the world, so we shield them from it. Then, as they enter high school, we worry that they’ll get bored (and leave), and so we entertain them. What do you think? Do you think fear plays into it?

  12. Rebecca says:

    Scott, an argument from silence, particularly when dealing with Holy Scripture, is kinda dangerous, no?

    And if you look at the lives of the other Holy Apostles, such as St. Matthew, whose feast day is tomorrow in the East, it is quite clear they were adults. St. Matthew’s work as a tax collector would have necessitated he be of a certain age, and scholarly level, because he would have been fluent in Aramaic and Greek. And that’s just a quick thought. If we look at the continued pattern of the Apostles’ leadership after Pentecost and into the 1st century, as outlined by Church tradition, these men were clearly of such age that they were able to go forward, to lead and to be taken seriously by others for reasons other than they had walked with Christ.

    This, and this post I guess, is why I am less of a Scripture literalist. I do not know why the story is told the way it is. I do not know what is left out, but we know that much is because we know that Jesus said a whole lot more than the words in red in our New Testaments. So I am not willing to say this is true because this is what was (un)said.

    While I certainly agree that our Lord’s ministry included, or sought out the young, we should not lose sight of what Holy Tradition teaches us, through Scriptures and elsewhere. These men, the Apostles and the 70, often had families, jobs, homes etc. that they left behind to follow Christ. Following Christ is never easy, but especially when it is required outside the pattern of the lives we have chosen for ourselves, if that makes any sense.

    That said, a message of the passage, or of all of Scripture, is that our Holy God uses men and women of any age, any ability and any position to further His kingdom and work for the salvation of others.

    • Interesting push-back, Bec. Allow me to respond. First, I’m not sure that you could call this an argument from silence. Rather, this is an argument based upon an understanding of how rabbis and disciples interacted with one another. And in that ancient world, it would have been inconceivable for a disciple to not do something that a rabbi was compelled to do for himself. So if Jesus feels the need to pay the tax (even if it is solely for the purpose of avoiding conflict), than the disciples would have done the same. But in this case, only Peter was covered by the tax. So either Jesus left the others to fend for themselves, which seems highly improbable, or they were younger than 20.

      But secondly, I would argue that our wealth of knowledge regarding rabbinic practices is growing every day as archeology reveals more and more. Typically speaking, Jewish boys learned Torah up until the age of 10-11. From there, the best of them would have been allowed to study from Joshua to Malachi. At that point, the boys were typically 14-15 years of age; and the best of these would choose to follow a rabbi. The others would return home to learn the craft of their father’s. So the rabbinic system is built around taking on young disciples; and given the fact that Jesus was a Rabbi, it should surprise us that he does the same (see also Paul’s calling in Timothy under my post “A ‘Bastard’ in a Fatherless Age (part 2).”

      Finally, the argument that some of these disciples had families, jobs, etc… is not an argument for age. It is somewhat anachronistic to read our culture back into theirs. In those days, it would not be unusual for a 14-year old boy to hold down a job or even to be married. In fact, what does the Great Tradition teach us about the age of Mary? She was very young and betrothed to Joseph when the Spirit came upon her. So I don’t think the argument from jobs and families is enough to suggest that the disciples are older.


      • Rebecca says:

        The “argument from silence” are your words, from your above response to Matt. But I stand by my argument. How do WE, in 21st Century America know what the exchange rate was regarding the tax and the amount paid? Do we know that there weren’t more fish pulled out of the lake with money in their mouths?

        The answer, in short, is that we do not. But we do know, through much of Holy Tradition, that yes, the Theotokos was youngish when betrothed (older, though than Protestants like to often make her, particularly for pro-life arguments). We know, again through Holy Tradition, that these men with Christ, the 12 and the 70, were left in high positions of leadership or as missionaries immediately after Pentecost. That implies, even if we do not lay our own cultural standards back on those stories, that they were of some age and means (not just physical means, but of an age and skill level to be effective when wandering the countryside as preachers).

        Nope, I’m not naive enough to put our cultural norms on what my Church teaches about life back then. But we don’t know exactly how Jesus’ work as a rabbi looked. We know that it was largely held at bay (clearly) by the powers that were in the temple and the religious community, so if we’re going to argue from inference, we could argue that it was likely non-traditional in many ways. And we know St. Peter ran a fishing business. We know he had a wife (while that does not mean he was in his late 30s, we know he had some type of a family.) Do we think his brother is that much younger? After Pentecost, St. Andrew preached in Georgia, Thrace, Byzantium and Kiev, suffering martyrdom in 62 A.D. on a cross.

  13. Hey Bec … One last shot at this. 🙂 Take a look at the life expectancies for that time period. Assuming one survived infancy (which was a dicey proposition), most studies suggest that the typical individual had a life expectancy between 40 and 45 years of age. If you were of the upper class, that might be extended to roughly 60 (based upon access to better food, sanitation, medicine, etc…)

    Now, asume that I am correct about the approximate ages of the disciples (roughly 15-19 prior to the death of Jesus). Now look at the dates that the Great Tradition proposes for the deaths of the various Apostles:

    Peter (c. AD 64) – Peter would be at least 51 because we know that he was at least 20 at the
    time of Jesus)
    James, son of Zebedee (c. AD 44) – James would be 26-30.
    John, son of Zebedee – writes Revelation in 90 AD, so he would be 72-ish
    Andrew, Peter’s brother – no traditional date
    Philip (c. AD 54) – Philip would be 36-40
    Bartholomew – unknown
    Matthew (c. AD 60) – Matthew would be 42-46.
    Thomas (c. AD 72) – Thomas would be 54 to 58.
    James, son of Alphaeus – unknown
    Jude – unknown
    Simon the Zealot (c. AD 74) – Simon would be 56 to 60

    Now assume that you are correct and that the disciples are older, say 25ish.

    Peter would be would be at least 51 (see argument above)
    James would be 36-40
    John – as per the writing of Revelation, John would be 82ish.
    Philip would be at 46-50
    Matthew would be 52 to 56
    Thomas would be 64-68
    Simon would be 66-70

    If you assume an age of 25 at the time of the calling, than in all but one case (James), the disciples would have outlived the average Roman citizen. But how unlikely is that given the fact that their calling lead them in to direct conflict with the empire and lead to martyrdom in every case but John’s.

    With all do respect, I honestly think this is a place where the modern tradition of thinking of these men as young adults has actually distorted the probable reality of the actual events.


    P.S. If you’re wondering about where I got my information on life expectancy, I actually can’t access my resources right now. Aidan is sleeping in my office. But copied below are two links that support my contention.

    • Rebecca says:

      Interesting, and a convincing argument. Split the difference w/you — 18-22?

      Maybe we weren’t clear on the beginning terms. When you say youth, I think today’s modern youth, which given your supposition and evidence, behaves quite differently now from then. So maybe 15 is the new 9? If they’re only living to 45-50, and I completely believe that, and they are inherently more responsible (if they are not members of the ruling class, or the 1% as it were) then a 15-year-old, or an 18-year-old, or a 25-year old is going to look substantively different than a young person of the same age today. That puts 23 as “middle age” then.

      So I guess we could argue that while Christ used young people, and I have no doubt He did, He used young people who were prepared for a life of privation and sacrifice, which is much more than today’s 15 to 20 year-olds. If we are going to point out that He used kids, let’s point out that those “kids” were actually adults by those standards and likely much more responsible or connected to their communities as adults. Does that make sense?
      (this is fun, btw)

      • Now we’re getting somewhere! At no point would I ever want to suggest that a 15 year in modern society behaves like a 15 year in that era. Heck, the average age of marriage in the time of Rome was 15 to 16. In the States, the average age is 27ish (haven’t looked in a couple of years). So clearly, we have prolonged adolescence and don’t ask nearly as much from our kids as they did in that era.

        But that is part of what I want to address with this blog. I teach at a really unique school, and I see my kids rise to the occasion in a way that would make most high schoolers flee in terror. Case in point: I just gave my freshman/sophomore class a 10 page test that had seven essay questions at the end. The average length of time to take the test: more than 3.5 hours! Most kids run from that. But thus far, my kids are rocking this exam (in fairness, I’m not done grading them yet).

        All that to say, I think we need to rethink how we do the teenage years. And that is part of the reason that I am exploring the subject of youth in the Scriptures. Did you read “Bastard (part 2)” yet? If not, I think you’ll be interested by what we know of Timothy.

        Thanks again for the give-and-take. This is what I am truly hoping to foster on this site. So thanks for playing. 🙂

        P.S. My Sandusky post is a direct result of our conversation this morning. So thanks for that as well! 🙂

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