Matthew 17:24-27. Jesus leads an example for us by sacrificing his rites and potentially his possessions to maintain a relationship with wicked people who want to kill him.
24When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25He 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?” 26And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27However, 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.g Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
This passage reminds me of something that does come natural to me. That is, submission to authority for the sake of peace.
According to several commentaries (bible.cc) this tax is not a municiple/roman tax, but rather a tribute for the temple. Sort of like a customary fundraiser with an unspoken social obligation to contribute. The $ amount was preset, 2 drachma, and the value was probably about $20 compared to today’s money/value standard. So basically this money was considered a tribute to the temple to maintain the temple, and was probably collected by some variation of pharisee.
It gets interesting when Peter, bringing the message to Jesus from the tax collectors. Before he gets a chance to open his mouth Jesus asks him a question, and so it goes: “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?…” Jesus reminds us who he is, before he gives us his answer about the tax. In other words he is saying ‘I am the son of God, the King of kings. As his son I am not required to pay this tax by any standard.’ I found this a little weird for Jesus when I first read it. Jesus really hasn’t ever been one to exercise his rites over authority, or anyone at all. So why does he all of a sudden (legitimately) defend his exemption from this (social obligitory) tax?
After defending his exemption, this happens: “And when he [Peter] said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free…” So Peter confirms Jesus rite to receive this tax break. Maybe Peter even begins to turn around to return to the tax collectors and report that Jesus is exempt and will not be paying, but Jesus continues before he gets away. And what he says makes me very uncomfortable, because it is not in my nature at all. He says: “However, not to give offense to them…” Jesus example here is almost painful to me. He does not have to pay the tax, he is probably quite poor (although he lacked no money because God provided for him), yet he is motivated to pay the tax for the sake of keeping peace. Specifically, he doesn’t want to offend. Jesus doesn’t want to offend. This gets me thinking of John 6:61 where Jesus seems to deliberately stir offense (which I am now starting to think maybe he wasn’t deliberately stirring offense but rather commenting on what he observed).
So, Jesus, who is hated by the pharisees, is being prompted to pay them, and while he knows that it is actually the pharisees that should be paying him, he still pays for the sake of keeping peace (as much as he can) between himself and the pharisees. This is a paradigm bender for me. I did not know this about Jesus. While Jesus is already sinless, he even contributes money, for a customary tax, that was actually his to receive rather than pay – all for the sake of maintaining a peaceful relationship with his culture.
How does this apply to me? When I am presented with a cultural-custom that is also a social-obligation that contributes to a cause that is mis-aligned and corrupted by sin (as the temple management was) , I am instantly rebellious. “I don’t think so! NO WAY! If I don’t have to, you can’t make me just ‘cos you think I should.” In an attempt to win an argument, I make anybody trying to press this on me fight me so I can reveal their inconsistencies. — WHY? Is that Jesus method. Nope. Jesus came to earth as a missionary to seek and save. Jesus does not go against the grain of the culture he is in unless it puts him in a place of disobedience to his Father. Jesus leads an example for us by sacrificing his rites and potentially his possessions to maintain a relationship with wicked people who want to kill him. Even with all the power and authority he needs to make them pay for their insolence, he lays down his crown and serves them, even in their customary cultural nuances he was not required to take part in. Why? He loved them and he desired to reach them.
Take-away: When I see Jesus doing this I realize that my efforts to exist in this (Canadian) culture as a missionary must beyond preaching the gospel to Canadians from a distance. It must be more than coming down to them every now and then to give them a holy hug in their dirt. It must be getting down beside them and living in their dirt with them so that I can feel every nuance of what it is to be Canadian and point with every emotion, action, and frustration back to a Holy God who hates sin, but is merciful toward people.