“We don’t need so much to hide our righteous acts from others as we need to hide them from ourselves.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Today, I want to share a short (yet thought-provoking) story from the Gospel of Matthew. The indispensable knowledge and insight embedded in this short passage is really quite spectacular. I hope you will be as encouraged by this exchange recorded between Jesus and Peter as I was.
Let’s dive in…
“On their arrival in Capernaum, the collectors of the Temple tax came to Peter and asked him, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?’
‘Yes, he does,’ Peter replied. Then he went into the house.
But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, ‘What do you think, Peter? Do kings tax their own people or the people they have conquered?’
‘They tax the people they have conquered,’ Peter replied.
‘Well, then,’ Jesus said, ‘the citizens are free! However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us’.” Matthew 17:24-27
What a radical juxtaposition! Jesus (the Son of God) was paying a tax to the very people He created. The tax funded a temple that was constructed with raw materials that He also created. The temple’s purpose was defined by Him through the commandments (given to Moses) and the ancient writings inspired by Him (given to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other prophets) to be shared with His chosen people.
When you stop and really think about what was happening in that moment, it seems ridiculous. But I find it breathtakingly fascinating that God would once again humble Himself for the sake of loving those He came to die for. Whenever I think I might understand humility, passages like this remind me that I am far from it.
What is happening in this story?
For starters, Peter is his usual self, impulsively answering a question that was beyond his knowledge. Peter was constantly falling into situations where he felt a pressure to please man instead of seeking to please God. I can relate, as I’ve done this many a times myself. When the Temple tax collector confronts Peter and asks if his teacher is paying the tax, Peter (in order to save face) basically says, “sure, He is.”
But Jesus seizes this opportunity to really challenge Peter. Jesus knows that a king generally does not pay taxes, nor would he impose one on his family. Because Jesus is the one True King, He owes no one taxes, nor does He force them on the followers that are living and serving in His kingdom.
In order for Jesus to address the precarious situation that Peter just put Him in, Jesus chose to maintain order by submitting to the existing rules instead of rebelling against them. By agreeing to pay the tax, Jesus also chose to avoid offending those who did not understand His kingship (another act of compassion and love).
Let His considerate actions simmer for a moment in your mind. Jesus could have rebelled, and He had every right to. After all, He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords. But He didn’t. He simply paid the tax, which shows extreme prudence and humility on His part. May we also emulate this heart-attitude through the power of the Holy Spirit as we progressively come into the full knowledge of Christ.
Join me tomorrow as we continue this discussion. We’ll cover why Jesus asked Peter to fetch the tax (and what we can learn from His choice). In addition we’ll discuss 3 more critical lessons we can draw from this passage. May you be encouraged. To God be the glory!
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