Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, He does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”
“From others,” Peter answered. “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him.  “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours. – Matthew 17: 24-27

fish coinPossibly one of the enigmatic moments recorded in the Gospels, this question about paying the tax to pay for Herod’s massive Temple project.  Peter answers the tax collectors with a confident “Yes, my rabbi does pay the Temple tax”  But then on his return, Christ challenges Peter … “Have you considered this Temple tax in this way.”  A teaching moment, most likely, but then that almost cynical statement …”Go fishing and you will find the money for the tax in the mouth of a fish!”  What is this … a miracle of a more magical kind?

Through the years I have pondered the meaning of this strange conversation.  In the end, it appears that Christ and Peter will go ahead and pay the Temple tax.  Yet … Christ argues that the people ought to be exempt from this taxation ordered by King Herod.  It is as if He is implying that any temple should be built out of the generosity of the people and not by dictate of a corrupt king.  But in order to keep the peace … the Lord will provide the means to pay the tax.

In this discourse with Peter the fisherman, the emphasis is that the Lord will provide … even for this questionable Temple tax.  For if there is to be a Temple, it is the Lord who provide for its construction in spire of the questionable intent of the King.

And what do I learn from this strange matter of the Temple tax and fish with coins in their mouths?  The Lord will provide in spite of our questions and moral dilemmas.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

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