Fish and taxes — Matthew 17:24–27

The glory of Jesus — part 6

40 blogs of Lent — day 33

The temple tax collectors did not come to Jesus, they do not even come looking for Jesus. Peter’s reputation of (to use a mixed metaphor) opening his mouth and putting his foot in it has gone before him. Jesus has turned the traditions of first the Pharisees, then the Sadducees and then the Scribes against them. How to get round Jesus? Go through impulsive Peter, that’s how.

I sometimes wonder about Peter, James and John and why thet were chosen to accompany Jesus. As well as Peter’s impatience James and John wanted Jesus to call fire down from heaven on a Samaritan town, and asked for themselves to have the seats either side of Christ in his kingdom.

There are times when I think Peter, James and John were chosen to be close to Jesus because they needed the most supervision.

Tetradrachm from Olympia, a similar coin to the one found in the fish’s mputh
Wikimedia Commins

24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others”, Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offence to them, go to the sea and 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.”

Matthew 17:24–27 ESV UK

I have spent two hours down the rabbit warren that is the internet looking at the values of ancient coinage, trying to work out what the coin in question was. There are a few different candidates. The word translated in the ESV as shekel is stator in Greek, a word that means a weight, and became the word for a coin made of silver and worth about 3 drachmae. As this coin was in use in Greece, and not enough to cover the 4 drachma temple tax for two. The shekel, also meaning weight, was a coin equivalent to the tetradrachm and either of these fit the bill. I can see why the shekel translation was used.

The temple tax of 2 drachmae was about 2 days wages for a skilled man and 4 days wage for a labourer. There was a coin that would pay two people’s temple tax. There is accuracy in the story.

The glory of yielding

This is the only miracle which is about money and it is only recorded by Matthew, who was a tax collector. Jesus’ teaching often involved the attitude to money, but this is the only one where it was involved in a miracle. It is said that this is the only miracle where Jesus did something for himself, but why he would do that cam be seen by the positioning of the text within the story as it is directly linked to Jesus talking about yielding to those who opposed him — about his death and resurrection, which was how he would be glorified, though the disciple did not appreciate that.

The miracle is a demonstrating of that yielding.

Jesus first points out to Peter that he, the Son of God to whom the temple is built, is exempt from the temple tax. Then, not to cause offence, he yields to those who came to trap him, and sends Peter to catch a fish with a coin in its mouth.

The issue of yielding to others comes up in Paul’s letter to the Romans and in his first letter to the Corinthians in the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul explains that the meat is OK and that idols have no strength so it would be fine to eat it: All the meat available in the markets at Corinth would have been butchered this way. But for the sake of others, even knowing you are right, it is good to yield, to give way to what they think, and not eat that meat.

Yielding in this way, even when we are sure we are right is not easy, but it should be part of the Christian way of life as it is the way to being glorified in the way that dogmatism never can be.


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