June 17, 2021
When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?" He said, "Yes." And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?" When Peter said, "From strangers," Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are exempt. "However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me" (Matthew 17:24-27).
History, especially that of ancient customs and laws, is necessary to understand this text.
- The text would have us understand that Jesus and Peter alone came to Capernaum since the other disciples were not referred to. They probably stayed in another home or in an inn.
- Peter lived in Capernaum so it was most likely his house that he and Jesus went to when they came to Capernaum.
- There were two types of tax collectors operating in that day. The ‘Publican’ was appointed by Rome with authority to collect taxes for Rome. The ‘Tax Collector’ was appointed by the Priests (Sanhedrin) with authority to collect taxes for the upkeep of the Temple.
- ‘Two-drachma’ is one work in the Greek. It’s also called a double drachma, but it was a single coin. It was the equivalent to a day’s wage.
- ‘Customs’ was a tax on commodities. A ‘poll-tax’ was a tax that every male, 20 years old and older. had to pay annually in accordance with Exodus 30:11-16.
The question asked Peter was phrased in a way to imply that because Jesus was a Rabbi (religious teacher), He could claim exemption from the Temple tax. Would Jesus do that? If so, the Pharisees would have yet another reason to condemn Jesus because He was not recognized as a legitimate Rabbi by them. But the Gospels bear out that Jesus did pay taxes, thereby supporting the ongoing work of the Temple and the Temple priests. This is affirmed by Peter who answered the tax collector with a simple, but emphatic ‘Yes!’
Romans 13:1-7 tells us to be in subjection to the governing authorities. Part of that subjection is to pay taxes. Therefore, it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor (vv.5-7).
“Remind us, Lord, that government is necessary for the health and well-being of the nation. And while we may not necessarily agree with certain aspects of government, and while we may gripe and complain about taxes and the way tax revenues are used, we are obligated to pay taxes to whom taxes are due. Remind us also that we can vote to change what we disagree with. May we be good citizens of this country and thereby honor You with our obedience. Amen.”