Big Idea: In the Kingdom of Jesus, we are free, but God gives us the resources to go beyond our obligations.
Matthew 17 is a packed chapter. Jesus is transfigured, casts out a demon, and promises the disciples that with faith like a mustard seed they can move mountains. Later, we will look at each of these, but today we are focusing on an event unique to Matthew: the payment of the Temple tax. Every Jewish man was required to pay an annual tax of two drachmae (two days’ wages) for the maintenance of the Temple. Some of the tax collectors responsible for this particular obligation went to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?” Peter told them that He did without consulting Jesus and got out of Dodge.
When he returned to the house where they were staying, Jesus asked before Peter said a word: “What do you think, Peter? Do kings tax their own people or the people they have conquered?” As usual, Jesus knew what was on Peter’s heart and mind without a word. They discussed that tariffs were for strangers, and the children of the king were exempt. Likewise, the disciples of Jesus, as sons and daughters of God, serving the Living Temple, were exempt from the Temple tax. But here, Jesus took a very different approach than His disciples have in the millennia since. He did not emphasize His rights, but the privilege He had to avoid offense. They did not owe the Temple tax, but God would provide them the resources to pay it anyway. Not for Himself or Peter, but for the sake of the tax collectors! A fun twist to the story is that Jesus sent Peter to catch a fish that had a large coin in its mouth that would cover the fee for both of them. Peter had not paid his tax either (no wonder he did not stay to chat). But there was a fish with $500 in its mouth ready to be caught.
Our question as Christians can never be as minimal as, “What must I do?” We are free from many obligations, but love goes beyond duty. Love looks for opportunities to serve. It was not too long before that Jesus had taught about going the extra mile and giving more than was asked; now He is living it out. Peter and Jesus are no worse off for their generosity because when we walk with Him, God handles the details. When we go the extra mile in love and service, putting our rights on the backburner and the needs of others on the front, we will indeed be like our Father.
Discussion Idea: What are some ways that you can serve another person, but have not because it is “not my job?” How does the story of paying the Temple tax call us to deeper obedience?
Prayer Focus: Pray for God to open your eyes to a chance to show the love that goes beyond obligation: pure grace.