Paying the Temple Tax, Part I

Before you leave, take a look at the updated Happenings page!

Monday, August 14, 2017  ~  19th Week in Ordinary Time
… AND the memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe

The gospel for today is from Matthew chapter 17, verses 22-27.  I would like to share some thoughts about it and gladly welcome yours!  It’s amazing what one can learn from paying close attention to Jesus’ actions and the details we often skip over in scripture, being that we have read and heard them so many times.

The first one I noticed was this: when the temple tax collector approaches Peter and asked him if Jesus pays the required temple tax and Peter says without hesitation, “yes.”

Whoa, Peter.

Did you ever think about why he said “yes”?  Me, neither. Well, if you think about dear St. Peter it isn’t surprising that his response was quick and certain, especially if it was to defend himself or someone he followed. As you recall, he did that often in the gospel accounts, and is well known for his spontaneous, impulsive, over-confident reactions in the face of a challenge.

Okay, that said, back to why he may have said Jesus paid the tax when, in fact we hear later that He did not. We can only speculate.  Is Peter just assuming Jesus pays the tax?  Is he out-right lying to cover for Him?  In one commentary I read that it is known that Peter did the administrative part of their ministry, while the leader, Jesus, was free from practical matters. We also know that Judas was the one who “held the money bag” of the group (Jn.12:6).  So, perhaps Peter knows for sure whether they paid the tax or not, since he may have been in charge of such matters.

That’s one small, maybe insignificant, point to consider about this passage.  If anything, it further illustrates the character and personality of Peter, at least for me.  Another little detail I liked was the fact that when Peter came to report to Jesus they needed money for the temple tax, Jesus is said to have prevented Peter before he could say anything. Then Jesus immediately addresses the query with a thought-provoking question:

“What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?” When he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the subjects are exempt.”

Now, don’t miss the obvious just because we want to get to the fun part of the story with the fish and the coin (sorry, I’m not even going to mention that part here … I’m no fun!).  Here is another manifestation of Jesus’ divinity!  You know, He is so humble and self-controlled that He knows when and when not to use His divine power (more on that later).  He knows what Peter is going to say before he says it, like somehow foretelling the future.

So what does Jesus propose to Peter to do?  He is now going to shed a totally different light altogether on what would otherwise be a mere juridical, ordinary financial dilemma that could be addressed on a very human and worldly level.  He is going to open the eyes of God Himself to look upon this situation, and respond from that very gaze of God–the eternal, heavenly, spiritual vision of another Kingdom.  Here is our God, dear friends.  He is the master teacher, philosopher, psychologist and counselor, diplomat to high-ups, and financial consultant. And all in a couple sentences.

Jesus will pay it, like all others will have to, even though He doesn’t have to, and will show Peter and the other disciples that He and they live under no other kingship than the Father’s (“My kingdom is not of this world.” Jn. 18:36).

Here is the take-away… here is how to learn to do what Jesus would do (WWJD, remember?).  And that’s what I love about lectio divina—when He opens our eyes to see His heart, to see something with His vision that we need in our own lives.

Sorry for the little diversion. So, He doesn’t have to pay. Why not? Because the Temple belongs to God, and Jesus is the Son of God. In verses 25-26 Jesus asks Peter, “Who pays taxes to the king?  Subjects or foreigners?” In the Greek the word subjects translates as “sons” and the word foreigners as “strangers”.  Peter is also a son, a child of the true King, as are all followers of Christ. So, yes. They are exempt from paying the tax for the house of their own Father.

Now, my heart quickens because the next part is so beautiful, and so applies to my own life, and to yours, most likely. Jesus doesn’t act like the world does. Even though He is exempt, we read that he pays it by getting money from a fish that Peter is told to go catch. However the Lord Jesus gets the money, the point for my reflection is that He pays it without making a fuss. He doesn’t go for one-upmanship contests and say, “go tell that tax collector that I own the place and no way am I or my friends going to pay any tax!” We may, at times, react like that due to our deep insecurities. We try to cover that up by looking strong on the outside, or smart, or whatever.

But Jesus is security Itself.

He has no need to prove anything on the worldly level of power or pride. See how far detached from the ways of the world He is? The world, flesh and the devil declare: “I have my rights!” Jesus was God. He had “rights”, but did not grasp at them (“Though He was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself …” Phil. 2:6).

There is true freedom.

Freedom from my own ego. Freedom in caring not what the world thinks of me, but caring more about living in the Truth—that I belong to another Kingdom. I am a son/daughter of God.

So I don’t have to pay.

There’s still more to share on this … but I can’t put you through it. I’ve already overstayed my welcome with this very long post. The next—much shorter!—part will be for next time. Till then,

God bless you.


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