On their arrival in Capernaum, the collectors of the Temple tax came to Peter and asked him, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” Peter replied. Then he went into the house. But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Peter? Do kings tax their own people or the people they have conquered?” “They tax the people they have conquered,” Peter replied. “Well, then,” Jesus said, “the citizens are free! Matthew 17:24-27(NLT)
Paying taxes is always a lovely thought that helps me lose my appetite. On the other hand, if I want to get really upset I can think about NOT paying my taxes and the IRS audit that is certain to follow.
Following Jesus may have provided many such disturbing thoughts for Peter, and this one was no different. Peter understood Jesus to be God-sent, and the one true Messiah who would overcome Roman oppression. But, at the same time, that oppression (including taxes and crosses) was very extant and always in sight. But oppression came from many fronts, including the Temple tax system.
Peter’s conundrum: if you pay the Temple tax you’re giving into the oppressive system; if you don’t you’re running the risk of jail. One way you’re a wimp; the other you’re a rebel outlaw.
Jesus killed two birds with one fish…and there were side benefits!
Side benefit #1
When Peter got the fish, he not only paid the taxes, he got a meal!
Side Benefit #2
When Peter got the fish, finding the coin Jesus told him to seek, his faith got a boost (obedience to Jesus’ commands will do that!).
Side Benefit #3
When Jesus told Peter to go get the fish, it was with a lesson that the fish isn’t the main issue; freedom is the main issue.
Peter learned that freedom is an attitude that allows you to obey God and keep a right perspective on everything.
Elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus taught nearly the same lesson, instructing his disciples that they ought to give the government what is rightly owed, but also to give to God what is due to God. Sometimes it seems like that’s a cop-out, compartmentalizing faith and so-called “real life”. But, in reality, every breath, every step, every word you utter is owed to God; so is paying your taxes. As you fulfil these worldly obligations you are also moving in the God-realm. In that larger sense, there is no such thing as secular and sacred; all of life is sacred.
Jesus killed more than a few birds with one fish here. He taught us that freedom is our heritage; citizens of heaven are free to love and serve because even if God has to produce a tax payment from a flounder’s mouth, He will see to it.
Have you got any tax payments due…unanswered questions nagging…issues of faith? God may send you fishing for the answers!