Monday, October 17th. Matthew 17:24-27

When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes, he does.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?” When Peter said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.” Matthew 17:24-27

Right next door to our church is a conservative Jewish synagogue. One thing I have learned from them is that every family in the synagogue are assessed, and expected to pay, annual dues. This is very matter of fact. Everyone is expected to pay. No one slides by year after year while allowing others to support them.

On the one hand, it seems coercive and inappropriate. On the other, there are costs associated with a synagogue – what’s the problem if that is how the community chooses to fund itself? (Don’t send me emails on that…I know what the problem is…) Just know this, at the end of the day, someone has to foot the bills.

The “temple tax” referred to in this passage was a practice dating back all the way to Moses (Exodus 20:11-16) who declared that all Jewish males above the age of 20 should pay a half shekel tax every time that a census was taken. The money collected would be used to pay for the cost of the meeting place…later, for the costs associated with the Jewish temple.

This would have been thought of as a normal practice, the cost of doing business as the people of God. But the puzzling thing is that Jesus then asks Peter about the taxation practices of the “kings of the earth.” What do these have to do with each other? Then, strangely, Jesus tells Peter to catch a fish and in it he will find a coin that will pay both of their taxes.

The turning point in the passage is Jesus’ declaration, “Then the children are free.”

Ben Franklin usually gets credit for the saying, “The only sure things in life are death and taxes.” Whether or not he said it first, the fact that it is attributed to him suggests that this is an idea that has been around a long time. Now we know it reaches as far back as Moses.

Human nature doesn’t change much. Someone still has to pay the bills. It is still easier to spend other people’s money. This is the great tension and it plays itself out in families where children demand what their parents can’t afford; in religious communities where some give generously and others don’t give at all; and in the political arena where promises come with price tags and it is always easier to pay tomorrow for what we want today.

Into this mix, Jesus declares, “Then the children are free.” He can only mean one thing.

The temple tax was one source of the funds undergirding the entire Jewish sacrificial system. The day would soon come when the one sacrifice to end all sacrifices would be made. On that day, the children of God would be free forever.

So it is that death and taxes remain certainties in our lives. But they aren’t the only sure things. So too is the love of God – and it will remain long after death and taxes are done forever.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, as we move now into a new week, we pray that you would bless us in our daily work. We pray for those who steward the resources of others, that their work might be done with justice and diligence. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Responses to “Monday, October 17th. Matthew 17:24-27”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you for coming back!!

  2. Jewish Christian Woman Says:

    I am a Jewish Christian and would like to respectfully give another perspective on how Jewish congregations handle finances. 1) There is not a congregation I know of in America or the world that does not allow anyone who approaches the rabbi or financial administrator to attend services for free. Anyone may receive a ticket to enter worship. Most congregations collect membership dues and one benefit of paying one’s dues is tickets to services that are often highly attended. No one is kept away for an inability to pay. Most Christian congregations count on extra large collections on Christmas and Easter in a similar way that most Jewish congregations know there will be many who are not regular worshipers who attend high holiday services. The reason for the security guards is NOT to keep out those who don’t pay, but to keep out those who might enter anonymously and commit violence against the congregation. In similar ways early churches, and churches today in oppressed countries worship in secret places to avoid persecution. There are many instances of anti-Semitic actions toward Jewish congregations, and the security presence is there to protect the congregation and to help manage the crowds. Many large churches will hire police officers to control traffic into and out of their parking lots on Easter and Christmas, the security guards at synagogues perform a similar function, but most of us don’t drive on the Sabbath or High Holidays so there is no need for the directing traffic part of these duties

    Reverend Kerry, your devotions are usually 100% right on and are always very helpful, however, I think today’s post contributes to the subtle antisemitism and attitude of religious superiority and condescension that is expressed by many Christians today and I feel giving this topic another perspective is a helpful way to combat these attitudes that do not honor the messages of love, grace and tolerance expressed by Christ.

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