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Payment of the temple tax

Gospel Reading: Mt 17:22-27

As Jesus and his disciples were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were overwhelmed with grief. When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes,” he said.

When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, “What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?” When he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the subjects are exempt. But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.

In Jesus’ day, Jewish males 19 and older are expected to pay an annual tax of two drachmas (equal to a half shekel) for the upkeep of the temple. What is the meaning of this story? It could be read in at least three levels. At the most practical level, this story no doubt reflects the struggle of Matthew’s Church to live in a reasonable peace as a minority party within Judaism. The relationship between Matthew’s group of Jewish Christians and other Jews in the area is undoubtedly strained. Are Christians still obliged to support the old religious structures they have left behind? While no longer bound, they are free out of love for the neighbor (and in reverence for their Jewish roots) to freely choose to pay. At a second level, this story is a metaphor of the freedom of the Christian life. The question that a Christian asks is no longer “How much do we owe?” but “How can we, as God’s cherished children of freedom, shower upon others the gifts we have freely received?” Lastly, at its profound level, the temple tax is “atonement money,” or as Exodus puts it, “a reminder of the Israelites before the Lord of the ransom paid for their lives” (Ex 30:16). It is, of course, Jesus the true Son of God, the child of heaven who is genuinely free, who will himself be the ransom given for our lives.

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How do we image God? Do we see God as a giant tax collector?

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SOURCE: “366 Days with the Lord,” ST PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328; E-mail: publishing@stpauls.ph; Website: http://www.stpauls.ph.