After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma 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 sons or from others?”
“From others,” Peter answered.
“Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not offend them, 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.”
When Jesus entered human experience, being born into the squalor of a Bethlehem stable, he not only embraced the humility of earth, but released from his grasp the glories and privileges of heaven.Paul says that although “being in very nature God, (he) did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7).
These twin themes of privilege and humility are uniquely captured in this short incident that Matthew alone records. The annual temple tax is being collected and every Jewish male aged twenty to fifty is expected to pay it. For some reason the tax collectors see fit to query Peter as to whether Jesus will be paying the tax or not. Whatever their reasoning, they were right to ask, for Jesus actually has a distinct perspective on the issue.
“Do earthly kings collect taxes from their own sons,” he asks Peter, “or only from others?”
Peter answers decisively. “Only from others, of course – not from their sons – not from family!”
“So, the sons are exempt,” Jesus declares. Of course. In Peter’s own hearing, on the Mount of Transfiguration, the Father in heaven has just declared Jesus to be his own unique, beloved Son. It is obvious then, that as Son of God he would not be required to pay a tax for the Temple, bearing his Father’s name. Jesus is subtly making that point clear. He knows who he is. He knows his divine rights.
But he doesn’t stand on that privilege. No. He chooses to hold it loosely, not creating offense, but rather making the same payment as everyone else. It’s a stance of humility. He embraces it willingly.
Have we in our day lost sight of such humility? There is so much pushing and shoving to seize hold of our rights. Certainly as followers of Jesus we should stand firm for the rights of others, being champions of justice, seeking to rectify injustice whenever it occurs. But our own rights? It seems Jesus’ example would encourage us to hold them much less tightly, loosening the grip, bearing with others, not creating needless offense, but rather absorbing the cost ourselves.
Peter took part in a miracle that drove the point home. We simply look to Jesus.
Lord Jesus, I marvel that you set aside your rights to come down, to enter our world, to take on flesh and blood, to be God-with-us. You maintained humility in all your interactions – and you call me to the same. As you were secure in your identity with the Father, so I want to be secure in my identity in you. Strengthen me by your Spirit. Fill me with your own attitude. Use me in your purposes.
Reflect: In what relationships or situations are you more prone to exert your rights than to embrace humility? Ask the Lord to work more of his own attitude within you.