Hope is Here / 11. Hope is Here // 4 The Temple Tax - Matt Carvel // Matthew 17:24-27

11. Hope is Here // 4 The Temple Tax - Matt Carvel // Matthew 17:24-27

In this week’s passage, Peter is asked if Jesus pays taxes. As laid out in Exodus 30, the Israelites paid tax for the upkeep of the tabernacle and this seems to have been carried over and applied to the later temples. The tax was paid by everyone over the age of 20 years old. The only ones who were exempt were the rabbis. In asking this question, the tax collector is trying to determine Jesus’ legitimacy as a rabbi or teacher.
This is an important story because it shows how Jesus responds to unjust challenges and how we should handle unfair authority. He does not believe that He is obligated to pay the tax, but He doesn’t want to offend so He pays it anyway. He tells Peter, ‘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.’ This seems like a strange way of getting money and it’s not clear if Peter did this. It may have been a joke that Jesus was making about the tax collectors' poor attitude towards money - if they want a coin, they can have one out of a fish's mouth.
Jesus was constantly trying to point out the hypocrisy of religious leaders and here He is putting His finger on their motives, how they don’t care about the temple, they just want the money. However, He is also showing us how to deal with authority that is placed over us when it is not good. To be like Jesus we have to submit to authority, even when it is unjust and radically love during persecution. Jesus endured suffering willingly, going to the cross to be killed for crimes that He did not commit. He could do this because He trusted Himself to God who judges perfectly. It’s not our place to fight back but to honour authority to the extent that we can while still honouring and obeying God above all.
It is vital to receive this teaching with the right balance and nuance. We don’t need to endure suffering needlessly, but we need to look at the manner in which we respond to authority. You can honour authority while challenging it. Jesus submitted and paid taxes but at another point, He turned over the tables in the temple. It takes wisdom to know when to comply and when to challenge.
As well as paying for the upkeep of the tabernacle, the tax was to make atonement for the sins of the people. It acted as a reminder that they were sinful people and that their sins needed to be paid for. Jesus, the perfect son of God owed nothing yet He still paid anyway because that is what He came to do. He died and paid the debt for our sins, though He never did anything wrong. Our atonement now comes from putting our trust in Jesus, not from taxes or sacrifices. He takes the burden of sin and gives us freedom so that we can come before the holy God.

Honour and submit to the authority that has been placed above you.
When authority is unfair, don’t try and fight back but let God be the judge.
Trust Jesus to be your atonement.

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