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:
- This tax is explicitly discussed in Exodus 30:13-16. We’ll come back to that in a minute.
- 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.