Just Pay The Tax (Matthew 17:24-25)

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

In many societies, every day is tax day. In Canada we have tax on income  and tax on  what we buy after we’re taxed. We have tax on the expense of birth and tax on the expense of death – we even have tax on the dirt used to fill the grave. We have tax on the home we own and tax on the food we eat. We have tax upon tax upon tax. All of that is to pay for the services and infrastructure that the government provides, but the sheer volume of taxes is enough to cause most everyone to wonder  – at least from time to time – how they can avoid paying so much tax

We might think this is a modern problem. But it is not. Even Jesus and His disciples had to pay taxes, and just like in our day, not all of those taxes were ‘fair’; “After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”  “Yes, he does,” he replied.”

Commentator John Holland explains, “On the basis of the precedent of Ne. 10:32–33 (where the people committed themselves to an annual temple tax of one-third of a shekel) and the stipulation in Ex. 30:12–16 (originally a census levy to Yahweh, designated for the service of the tent of meeting, of half a shekel for each male over twenty, serving as a ransom to ward off the plague that the pride of conducting a census might otherwise bring) a custom had arisen, and was being defended in Jesus’ day as a requirement of the Law, of levying an annual temple tax on males over twenty to finance offerings in the temple made on behalf of the whole people. Provision was made for collecting the tax locally and sending the gathered monies on to Jerusalem. The collection period was about a month, leading up to Passover. The tax was used to provide offerings in the temple on behalf of the whole people. Clearly not everyone paid the tax. The priests considered themselves exempt (m. Šeq. 1:4), some Jews were simply lax, and not everyone agreed that such a tax was mandated by the Law. […] Though not a particularly heavy tax (two days’ wages for a labourer), it sat on top of the rest of the tax burden and would have been very difficult for the unemployed or beggars to raise.

Peter’s response to the tax collectors was that yes, Jesus did pay the temple tax. Of course, the idea that God should pay a tax to help pay for the sacrifices for His people in His own temple is ludicrous. Jesus is both the Son of God and the Lamb of God. It is He who the people are appealing to in their temple prayers, and it is He who is the true sacrifice for the people. He is the One to whom each temple sacrifice pointed. He is the One who receives the sacrifice, and the One in whose honor the sacrifice is made to start with. That Jesus – and by extension, His disciples – should have to pay this tax is the very epitome of foolish injustice. 

Nevertheless, Jesus does pay the tax. He knows that to provoke the ruling authorities’ anger over the minor inconvenience of a few days wages is unwarranted. 

As long as we live in a fallen world, if we can pay, we should pay. Even if it is foolish in our eyes, and even if it is ironically unjust in God’s eyes. For today we live under a worldly economy. But in the coming Kingdom, we will live in the economy of God. Then we will not pay taxes, yet we will nevertheless offer gift and sacrifice of time and talent for all He has done for us. 

Resisting Rome at every turn misinterprets God’s kingdom, as though its goal were to overthrow earthly government. Collaborating for the sake of personal benefit also misinterprets God’s kingdom, as though its goal were to avoid conflict and to carve out an easy life. Faithfulness to God’s reign means living by values different from those of the political rebels but also different from those of the collaborating politicians. Jesus’ ultimate answer is “Give to God what is God’s, come what may!”

Timothy J. Geddert

APPLICATION: Intentionality

A good part of living for God’s coming Kingdom here and now is being willing to part with the worldly kingdom we are part of. Let us not bring disrepute to the Name by engaging in questionable practices of evasion.