Matthew 17:24-27
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. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

Yesterday in the United States marked our annual “tax day.” Each year on April 15 the deadline arrives for when you have to finalize your tax forms and make any additional payments (or receive a refund!) in order to be current with the previous calendar year for state and federal taxes. With that one sentence, I have expended everything that I know about taxes – except that you have to pay them or suffer the penalties! Fortunately, I am blessed to have a husband who knows about such things and is willing to take care of that for both of us. I am grateful.

As we can see by our reading for today taxes are nothing new. Even as far back as the book of 1 Kings the prophet Samuel promised the people that if they absolutely had to have a king one of the downsides to having a king would be that he would impose upon them taxes. It’s been over three thousand years since the reign of Israel’s first king and we are still paying taxes. What is different about the tax that we read of in today’s lesson was that it was a tax imposed by the Temple. Today we “tithe” to our church which is not mandatory. It is an act of worship and completely voluntary. But in Jesus day, the Jews paid an annual Temple tax, 2 drachmas, (not imposed by the Romans) which was equal to less than one day’s pay. This tax was used by the priests to support the massive sacrificial system that was in place to pay for the sins of the people and support the upkeep of the Temple. As usually happened, Peter’s understanding of his spiritual life is challenged and reframed.

When questioned about Jesus’ practice regarding this tax, Peter answers in the affirmative. Yes, Jesus does (had) pay the tax. But before Peter can even ask Jesus about it, Jesus brings it up first; and of course uses this moment to teach. Peter needs to reposition himself internally. To whom does he belong? Jesus helps with the answer. He belongs to the King – as a son. The King’s sons don’t pay taxes! Also inside of this reading is a new thought for Peter. Jesus is about to become The Sacrifice for the sins of the world. There isn’t going to be a need to perform all of those animal sacrifices anymore – ever. Yet another reason Peter (and Jesus) should be free from the Temple tax. This is a big concept and one that Peter probably doesn’t even come close to grasping until the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But in order to keep from causing offense Jesus provides a way for Peter to pay the tax for both Himself and Peter through the miraculous catching of one fish in whose mouth there just happens to be a shekel. (Four drachmas equals one shekel – the tax bill for two men.)

The mind wanders in interesting directions when looking at the Word. As I was mulling over this passage, I couldn’t help but thing of the old hymn, Jesus Paid It All. It kind of says it all!

I hear the Savior say
Thy strength indeed is small
Child of weakness watch and pray
Find in me thine all in all

And now indeed I find
Thy pow’r and thine alone
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone

And when before the throne
I stand in him complete
Jesus died my soul to save
My lips shall still repeat

Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

Oh praise the one who paid my debt
And raised this life up from the dead
Oh praise the one who paid my debt
And raised this life up from the dead
©2006 sixsteps Music. Alex Nifong.