Sons & Strangers

The fish with the shekel in its mouth.

I have taught the story many times before to children of various ages, but the Lord taught it to me this morning in a way that brought tears to my eyes.

Jesus and his disciples are approaching Capernaum, and Peter is pressed by a fellow Jew for a two-drachma tax. This tax was an in-house tax among the Jewish people, not the Roman tax that Jesus will address later in Matthew 22:12. According to custom established at the time of Moses and later adapted to the Temple, Israelite males over the age of twenty were to pay two drachmas as a tribute to help keep up the Temple. This came to be known as the Temple Tax and was collected at the major religious feasts of the Jewish people.

When pressed and pressured by a leader, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?,” Peter quickly responded, “Yes,” perhaps out of a desire for approval or a desire to protect his teacher and friends from religious shame  (Matthew 17:24-25).

Either Jesus knew what had happened or happened to overhear the interaction. Either way, he used this interaction as a personal and intimate teaching moment with his disciple who would eventually be among the most prominent leaders of the early church. Jesus posed his own question to Peter:

“What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” (Matthew 17:25). 

The answer was obvious. Why would a king make his own son pay a tax? Taxes are for strangers, not sons. No such formal obligations should be made from a father to his sons. The sons, because of their connection to their father, are exempt. The Greek word used here, eleutheros, can be translated free, liberated, unbound, unshackled.

The audacity of this moment shocked me. After all, here a religious leader was pressing the One who was the living Temple for a temple tax, demanding that the One who was the only rightful son of God pay a tax to his father. The very Temple in question was intended all along to point to the One who would pitch the tent of God’s presence among us (see John 1).

The humble, yet powerful response of Jesus at this moment astounded me in a new way  this morning.

He sent Peter, the fisherman, with a hook to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, telling him to grab the first fish he could,  and promising him that he would find twice the Temple Tax in its mouth (a shekel was equal to four drachma). For Peter, who likely had seen just about everything one might normally find in the mouthes of fish, this would be a new fishing story he would never forget. But, more than the story, the powerful lesson it would write on his heart regarding his master would never be forgotten.

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Sons &  Strangers

The Living Temple approaching the Temple,
Pressed by men to pay their fee. 
The One True Son treated as a stranger,
The Same Son who would mount the tree.

Would they charge Him to enter
The Presence of His Own Father?
The One who would become tribute
For two drachmas did they bother?

What they demanded from Him
He provided with great precision,
A shekel from a fish was nothing
To the price of His coming decision.

All treasures of all time were His
Yet with His blood, He’d pay the cost.
That strangers might become sons,
That His siblings might not be lost. 

This morning, in the midst of COVID-19, let us rest in the reminder of the One who paid the greatest cost for our freedom. God has provided more powerfully for us in his life, death, and resurrection than He did for Peter with the shekel from the sea.

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