Matthew 17:24-27 (ESV) 24 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?” 25 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?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 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.”
Here is a little commentary that is helpful to set the background for this Scripture:
While most Jews resented Roman taxation, the annual payment of the Jewish two-drachma tax for the upkeep of the temple and its services was a matter of national pride. The collectors’ question suggests that Jesus now had a reputation for not conforming to social expectations. And Jesus here asserted his independence, in principle: as God’s son he was exempt (cf. 12:5–6: ‘one greater than the temple is here’), but he was willing to pay the tax in order to avoid giving offense. – Richard T. France, “Matthew,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson, et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 927.
There are beautiful insights we can gather from Jesus’ interaction with the tax collectors and why he did what he did. What caught my attention when reading this Scripture the other day was the statement, “Jesus spoke to him first,…”
Peter was caught in a situation where he had to speak on behalf of Jesus and answer a tough question. Peter did the very best he could.
Whether Jesus had made an intentional habit out of not submitting to the tax or just didn’t do it this time, we can’t be 100% sure even though the commentator suggests that Jesus’ reputation was to not conform to the social expectation.
Regardless, Peter, representing Jesus has to give an answer, and with nothing but a desire to honor Jesus, he answers that Jesus does pay the tax.
Jesus now puts his love and concern for Peter on display as well as his ability to take care of him in his words and actions.
The emphasis on Jesus speaking to Peter first hints at me that perhaps Peter was unsure of his answer, Peter was bothered by his lack of confidence and if he had not done well, and Jesus was aware of Peter’s concern. Jesus, aware, initiates the conversation with a question that speaks to identity, and he provides a solution that shows Jesus’ power and I’m sure builds Peter’s confidence in Jesus.
What can we learn?
- When we do our very best to answer hard questions about Jesus’ view of things, represent him well, speak rightly of him, we can know that he knows our hearts and he will care for us.
- Maybe Jesus’ didn’t want to conform to this unbiblical tax and he was making a point, and Peter would have been more consistent with Jesus’ stance to bow up and refuse to pay the tax, but Peter didn’t do that, and Jesus didn’t condemn Peter for how he answered. Why? Because it was not a right/wrong issue but was an exercise of wisdom in seeking to make a point about who he is and what his mission was, and even though Peter didn’t get it exactly right, it simply was not something that Jesus needed to correct Peter over, nor did Jesus even want to.
- Jesus doesn’t wait for Peter to bring it up. Jesus knows Peter’s need internally, and he actually brings it up for Peter so they can talk it through together. Note the love Jesus has for his people. Jesus spoke to him first. I’m so glad that when I don’t know if I’ve done good or if I’ve done bad, Jesus is waiting for me to bring it up by the Holy Spirit and show me his encouragement. That does my soul good.
- Jesus actually bypasses his preference in this instance and encourages Peter in his questioning by reminding him that he’s a son, and exempt, but it’s ok to pay the tax even though the cultural expectation was way off base. The tax people didn’t know their theology from a hole in the ground, and Jesus knows it, but rather than make Peter get fired up, Jesus just reminds him they are sons of the kingdom and that is enough.
- They clearly didn’t have the four drachmas to pay the tax, and Peter has now, in good intent, put them on the hook (no pun intended) for paying what they don’t have. How does Jesus remedy this? He somehow, as God, sees that a fish picks up a shekel that is worth 4 drachmas, from the lake floor that perhaps someone dropped so that at just the right time he ordains it to be caught by Peter so that they could pay the tax and not offend the goofballs that are charing them for the tax. Wow. That reminds me of the ram that gets caught in the bushes at just the right time for Abraham to sacrifice it instead of Isaac. God sees, thus he is Yhwh who sees…provides.
- This account reminds me of Jonah also. God ordained the fish to accomplish his will, and here Jesus ordains the fish to accomplish good for him and Peter.
- We are reminded that Jesus is the God-Man and that nothing is impossible for him. He can lift Peter up and take care of what is needed.
- I’m certain this encounter with Jesus fueled Peter’s faith for the hard days that were to come, and that is exactly what Jesus wanted for Peter. A strong faith in him that would stand the test of time and the harshest of circumstances.
Meditate on this Scripture, and be encouraged to go after God’s kingdom, seek it first, and don’t be afraid to fail with all good intent while being holy. Know that when we do fail even in the mildest way, Jesus is more than able to get us through and see that his kingdom does come, and he will is done on earth as in heaven.