Thisblog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with headline from world news:
22 While Jesus and his disciples were together in Galilee, he said to them: “The Son of Man is destined to be betrayed into human hands, 23 and they will put him to death, but on the third day he will rise.” The disciples were greatly distressed.
24 After they had reached Capernaum, the collectors of the Temple-rate came up to Peter, and said: “Does not your Master pay the Temple-rate?”
25 “Yes,” answered Peter. But, on going into the house, before he could speak, Jesus said: “What do you think, Simon? From whom do earthly kings take taxes or tribute? From their children, or from others?” 26 “From others,” answered Peter. “Well then,” continued Jesus, “their children go free. 27 Still, so we don’t offend them, go and throw a line into the sea; take the first fish that rises, open its mouth, and you will find in it a piece of money. Take that, and give it to the collectors for both of us.”
Scholars tell us that this story may be present in Matthew because Matthew’s church community was debating whether to continue paying Jewish religious taxes at a time when belivers in Jesus Messiah had been excluded from the synagogues.Even if that is the case the story is set in the life of Jesus and its first readers would assume that the tax in question was the tax for the upkeep of the Temple in Jerusalem.
It’s a good humoured story, indicating that Jesus and his followers are children of God who are not forced to pay for the upkeep of the Father’s house; they go free. The meaning of this freedom is not obvious: do the children have no obligation for the upkeep of the household? In fact Jesus has just been talking about the “cost” of being a son of God and of following him. It must therefore mean that God’s children are not burdened with an elaborate religious cult designed to bring people closer to God. God has come close to them and recognised them as his children. They are a new humanity not a new religion.
Still, as it would be contrary to God’s goodness to claim special privileges, Jesus tells Peter to pay the tax. God has also provided a means of paying it. After all, every fish that’s caught comes with a “coin in its mouth” as it can be sold. The principle of freedom is moderated by the good sense that avoids giving needless offence to those amongst whom one lives.
(Certainly the principle that the children go free is not one to delight the heart of any church treasurer of any denomination. Before we rush to point out that the offerings of the faithful are not a tax, we should compare the elaborate and expensive habits of the modern churches with those of the early churches which used their surplus resources to care for the poor and the travel of missionaries.)
The folk-tale atmosphere of the story portrays the joyful confidence of people who believed that through Jesus they were children of God, while rembering that inside each one of them was a Jew, a Muslim, a Sikh, a Buddhist, an atheist…..