by Rev. Fr. Shebaly, Philadelphia
Gospel Reading: St. Mathew Chapter 17 verses 22-27
22 Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, The Son of man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, 23 And they shall kill him, and the third day he will be raised up. And they were exceedingly sorrowful.
24. when they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter, and said, Does your teacher not pay the temple tax? 25 He said, Yes. And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, what do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes? From their sons, or from strangers? 26 Peter said to him, From strangers. Jesus said to him, then the sons are free. 27 Nevertheless , lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first ; and when you have opened it's mouth, you will find a piece of money: take that, and give to them for me and you.
Our Lord Jesus Christ here foretells us his own sufferings to come. What he foretold was concerning Him--that he should be betrayed and killed. He perfectly knew, before, all things that should happen to him, and yet undertook the work of our redemption. His passion greatly commends his selfless love; and this love to man made all sufferings easy to him.
(V 22&23) He started proclaiming it well in advance to his disciples (ch. 16:. 21); and, finding that it was incomprehensive to his disciples. Any way Jesus saw it was necessary to repeat it, for there are some things which God speaks once, or twice, and man does not perceive it.
But see, how the disciples conceived this; they were exceedingly sorry. Here it appears their love towards their Master as a person, but with all their ignorance and mistake concerning his unique role in the redemption of the humankind. Peter indeed did not say any thing against it. But all others lamented on it.
It is very important to note that because Jesus knew the will of God about him, his whole life was committed to carry out his fathers Will in him. He was born and brought up as poor. He lived in poverty and never worried of his life situations. Through his life situations he reminded the humankind to seek God's kingdom first and promised them that the rest will be added to them.
(V 24-27) In order to teach the disciples how God's people should act towards the temple of God and how God cares for those who seek and work for him, he drew the attention of Peter in this given situation.
Here Jesus Christ was at Capernaum, where he mostly resided. The tax demanded was not any civil payment to the Roman powers, but to the church, which was strictly collected by the publicans.
Their question was, does not your teacher pay the temple tax? Some think that they sought an occasion against him, designing, if he refused, to represent him as disaffected to the temple-service, and his followers as lawless people, who would neither pay toll, tax, nor custom. It should rather seem, they asked this with much respect, intimating, that if he had any privilege to exempt him from this payment, they would not insist upon it.
Peter presenting his word for his great Master; "Yes, certainly; my Master pays tax; it is his principle and practice; you need not fear moving it to him." He was made under the law (Gal. 4. 4); therefore under this law he was paid for at forty days old (Luke 2. 22) Jesus was agreeable in contributing to the support of the public worship of God. If we reap spiritual things, it is fit that we should return carnal things also. That was his law. The temple was now made a den of thieves, and the temple-worship pretence for the opposition, which the chief priests gave to Christ and his teachings; and yet Jesus paid this tax.
Note, According to Jesus, Church-duties, legally imposed, are to be paid, irrespective of church-corruptions. We must take care not to use our liberty as a cloak of covetousness or maliciousness, 1 Pet. 2: 16. If Jesus paid tax, who can ask for an exemption?
Now, He appeals to the way of the kings of the earth, which is, to take tax from strangers, of the subjects of their kingdom, or foreigners that deal with them, but not from their own children that are of their families.
He applies this to himself; then the sons are free. Jesus is the Son of God, and Heir of all things; his Father's house (John 2. 16), in it he is faithful as a Son in his own house (Heb. 3: 6), and therefore not obliged to pay this tax for the service of the temple. Thus Jesus asserts His right, not to paying this tax.
It is interesting to note that for what reason Jesus waived his privilege, and paid this tax, though he was entitled to an exemption. He said, "We should not offend them". Few knew, as Peter did, that he was the Son of God. Here Jesus drops that argument, and considers, that if he refuses this payment, it would increase people's prejudice against him and his teachings.
The way he took for the payment of this tax was out of the mouth of a fish (v. 27), as bible says.
Here the poverty of Jesus is accountable. He had no money at command to pay his tax, although he cured so many diseased; it seems, all his service was free and for our sake he became poor, 2 Cor 8: 9. In his ordinary expenses, he lived upon alms (Luke 8: 3), and in extraordinary ones, he lived upon miracles. He did not order Judas to pay this out of the bag that he carried and which was intended for the benefit of the community.
The power of Jesus Christ, in fetching money out of a fish's mouth for this purpose. Whether his omnipotence put it there, or his omniscience knew that it was there, it seems all to one; it was an evidence of his divinity, and to show his duty bound life and care for his disciple who work for him.
Jesus intended, Peter must catch the fish by casting a hook in order to pay the tax for him and peter. Even in miracles he would use means to encourage our involvement. Peter has something to do, and it is in the way of his own calling too, to teach us diligence in the job we are called to, and called in.
Do we expect that Jesus Christ should give to us freely and doing nothing in return? Let us be ready to work for him to see a miracle.
The fish came up, with money in its mouth, which represents the reward of obedience in obedience. What work we do at Christ's command brings its own pay along with it: In keeping God's commands, as well as after keeping them, there is great reward, Ps. 19: 11. Peter was made a fisher of men, and those that he caught thus came up; where the heart is opened to entertain Christ's word, the hand is open to encourage his ministers.
The money was just enough to pay the tax for Jesus and Peter. Here Jesus could have easily commanded a bag full of money, instead he teaches us not to be greedy, but to having sufficient for our present situation. Jesus Christ made the fish his cash-keeper; and why may not we make God's providence our storehouse and treasury? If we have enough for today, let to-morrow take thought of it, for the things.
Peter fished for this money, and therefore a part of it was given for his use. Those that are workers together with Christ in winning souls shall shine with him. Jesus said, 'Give it for you and me' and Jesus paid for himself and Peter. What Jesus paid for himself was a debt; what he paid for Peter was a courtesy to him. Yes! The word of God assures us that those who seek his kingdom first will be rewarded in this world and the world to come. Love to work for him. You will be rewarded!!
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