An Odd Little Story

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, 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

Considering what is going on in this section where Jesus is trying to teach the disciples about His mission as Messiah, a subject that leads to His death on the cross, one might think of Matthew’s inclusion of this little anecdote as being rather odd; it doesn’t seem to “belong” at this point in the narrative.

Or does it?

So far, Jesus has predicted His own death at the hands of the authorities twice. Yet in each case, He has included reference to the resurrection and the disciples seem to have missed it. He has been alluding to the redemption of Mankind, but they haven’t followed up with questions about that yet. His identity is known to them, and three of them are aware that He is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets, and they have heard that directly from the Father. Yet there is another element to His mission, an element that on the one hand makes its completion possible, and on the other hand is one that should mark the life of a disciple; that element is the denial of self. After all, would anyone claim that allowing Himself to be nailed to a cross was a self-centered thing to do on a Friday morning?

In our text, notice two things: First, that Jesus makes a pretty good case that He does not need to pay temple tax; He is God’s Son for heaven’s sake! Nevertheless, there really isn’t any point to making a big deal about it; it’s a trivial matter… and this is the second point… a needless argument to “get out of it” would be a distraction from His mission, and so He sends Peter the fisherman out to fish.

Over the years, I’ve listened as quite a few Christians go on about how nobody is going to take advantage of them, about how they “don’t have to” do this or that. Often they had valid points, but in no case were they making disciples or building up the Body of Christ while they were busy asserting their “rights”, and it would appear that Jesus didn’t waste His time with such things, for He was on a mission.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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10 Responses to An Odd Little Story

  1. Citizen Tom says:

    Apparently the term “offense” does completely get across the meaning of what Jesus said in verse 27. The Message indicates He wished to avoid upsetting the he collectors of the Temple tax. The The New Life version says Jesus wished to avoid troubling them. In the Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (verse 26 here), Jesus does not want to “scandalize them”. In the footnotes to the NASB, we see “cause them to stumble” as the literal translation.

    It seems odd to me that the word “offense” is used in most translations. I guess scandalizing people is the same as offending them, but I would have thought causing someone to stumble would equate to offending them.

    • Don Merritt says:

      You might find this interesting: The Greek word is “skandalezo” and according to Mounce…

      pr. to cause to stumble; met. offend, Mt. 17:27; to offend, shock, excite feeling of repugnance, Jn. 6:61; 1 Cor. 8:13; pass. to be offended, shocked, pained, Mt. 15:12; Rom. 14:21; 2 Cor. 11:29; σκανδαλίζεσθαι ἔν τινι, to be affected with scruples of repugnance towards any one as respects his claims or pretensions, Mt. 11:6; 13:57; met. to cause to stumble morally, to cause to falter or err, Mt. 5:29; 18:6; pass. to falter, fall away, Mt. 13:21

  2. DGHDelgado says:

    Bam! This passage has been so little enlightened in my life. I’ll admit I was hoping you’d get fish and coin part, but — BAM!! If only we’d make disciples and stop claiming our “rights”!
    Love it

    • Don Merritt says:

      LOL There is so much demanding of “rights” going on these days, yet no one seems to consider how our exercise of “rights” may affect those around us… and the result is just noise 🙂

  3. Wally Fry says:

    Yep, yep, and more yep. We certainly let this clamoring for rights, and a billion other distractions divert us from what our only real Christian message is…the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nicely said, Don, for sure.

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