Things we do for Practical Reasons
Matt. 17:24 ¶ When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?”
Matt. 17:25 He said, “Yes, he does.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?”
Matt. 17:26 When Peter said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free.
Matt. 17:27 However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”
Jesus and his disciples had been traveling around for a long period of time and had rarely been at home. The time of paying the temple tax had come and gone and the tax had not been paid -- presumably because Jesus had not been at home. The collectors of the temple tax came to Peter's home to check on Jesus' payment. Interestingly this was not a Roman or government tax, but this was a tax which all Jewish males were to pay for the maintenance of the temple. The Pharisees and the Sadducees argued over whether this was a voluntary tax or not.
The collectors wanted to get money, but they may have been embarrassed to approach Jesus himself. Instead, they went to Peter to inquire as to whether Jesus had paid his tax or not, or whether he intended to or not. Peter, in his usual blustery fashion, responded "Yes, he does." When he arrives at home he has a conversation with Jesus about the payment of this tax.
Jesus' response is reflective. He doesn't just find and/or give Peter money but he takes time to make him think. Think on this -- does a King ask his children to pay taxes to him? No, he doesn't for whatever belongs to him, belongs to them and it wouldn't make sense for them to pay a tax to him. Jesus was God's son. The temple was the house of God. If you really understood who Jesus was, you would never ask him to pay a tax for his own home! This was the irony of the story. The tax collectors didn't understand who he was, and neither did Peter.
Often the world doesn't understand and Jesus knew this and so not to offend them he sent Peter on a fishing mission to get the tax money. The money which Peter found in the mouth of the fish was enough to pay the tax for both Peter and Jesus! Jesus went out of his way to say that he and his followers would not take the exemption, but even with all its corruptions, he would be a supporter of the Temple.
Recently a message came across my desk from someone disgruntled with the church. Their recommendation to others who may be unhappy was to begin to withhold their tithe. Often we hear this referred to as voting with your pocket book! However today's lesson from Jesus would speak directly against such a practice. Jesus had more right than anyone not to participate in paying money into the temple. It was literally his temple! Yet, he provided an example for us in doing the practical thing and not offending others by not paying the tax. Jesus, as frustrated as he was with the religious system of his day, continued to support the work of the temple.
We are members of God's kingdom and as such we are ambassadors on this earth. There may be times that we feel that we needn't support certain organizations because of their practices. However, God has established systems and governments and organizations on this earth for the very purpose of providing order. Even if we are children of another kingdom, as long as we live here on this earth, we are to participate in and support the structures which exist -- whether we agree with them all the time or not. This is the example which Jesus has placed before us.
Twenty years ago now, when we first went to Russia, we watched what happened when the systems of society broke down. Lawlessness literally took over. Armed guards greeted us at the door of the local grocery store. Successful business people had to drive in bullet-proof cars. Nightly we heard shots ringing out in our neighborhood as the struggle for power was fought on our very streets. Bribery was a way of life and it all became rather maddening. Slowly structures have been rebuilt as society has again regained its form.
Sometimes in life we have to do things just for practical reasons. Jesus didn't need to pay the tax, and yet he chose to do so. Sometimes we are asked to do things that we really don't think we need to do -- and maybe we don't -- but we do because we don't want to offend. Being a follower of Jesus Christ means that I give up my right to myself and I am willing to do what I may not be required to do. Jesus took up his cross -- what are we willing to do?
Lord, please help me not to have stubbornness of heart, but to be faithful to you and to the systems which provide structure for our lives and the world. Amen.