Who Pays?

Matthew 17:23-2623. And when they had arrived at Capernaum, those who collected the half shekel approached Peter, and they said to him, “Doesn’t your Teacher pay the half shekel?” 24. He said, “Yes.” And when he had entered into the house, Jesus went before him, saying: “How does it seem to you, Simon? The kings of the earth, from whom do they receive tribute or the census tax: from their own sons or from foreigners?” 25. And he said, “From foreigners.” Jesus said to him: “Then the sons are free. 26. But so that we may not become an obstacle to them: go to the sea, and cast in a hook, and take the first fish that is brought up, and when you have opened its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take it and give it to them, for me and for you.”Jesus had returned to his home base, possibly Peter’s home. Those who collected the “tax” for the temple (not to be confused with those who collected taxes for Rome) approached Peter and ask if Jesus as going to pay the required half shekel. This was used for the upkeep of the temple.I wonder how it would work if our churches collected a “tax” instead of relying on donations? It sure would be easier planning the budget. No amen from the administrative council?We know that Jesus was raised in a family which followed the Jewish laws. He was circumcised on the eighth day. (Luke 2:21) He was presented to the temple at forty days for formal induction into the Israelite community. It was also when, as the first born son, he was both given to God and redeemed to live with his family. Exodus 13:1-21. The LORD spoke to Moses, 2. “Set apart every firstborn male for me. Every firstborn male offspring among the Israelites is mine, whether human or animal.” Jesus, as firstborn son, would have been in a state of sanctity (meaning holy or sacred) and thereby predestined to serve in the temple. All firstborn males are in this state of sanctity, unless they are redeemed or ransomed. A Jewish firstborn son can be redeemed, by use of a sacrifice of silver coins, or if unable to pay with silver with doves.The point here is that his parents followed the laws and customs, so we can assume that Jesus did also. We read in Luke chapter 2 that it was their custom to go to the temple during Passover. You’ll remember the twelve year old Jesus being found by his parents at the temple.Now, back to that shekels. I’ve tried to find the worth of the shekels in those times. I’ve discovered that there is no straightforward answer to that. The shekel’s value varied greatly depending on time and place. The best answer I’ve come up with is anywhere from a day’s wage to half a month’s wage. Jesus, as skilled labor (carpenter), would have paid more than an unskilled laborer (fisherman).But listen again to the question. “Doesn’t your Teacher pay the half shekel?” Without being there or having the emotions or voice in how the question was ask, it’s impossible to know why they asked.It could have been asked very straightforward and with no hidden agenda. Is he going to pay?It could have been asked as an accusation. Suggesting a who does he think he is to not pay?It could had been asked in a very respectful voice that acknowledged Jesus’s role as a spiritual leader. The questioner may not know if Jesus is supposed to pay. Was he to be exempt even as the priest were exempt?However the question was asked, the answer was a quick “Yes.”However, when Peter went in the house (presumably to get the coins), Jesus, as he so often did, used it as a teaching moment. He said something along the lines of; “Hey, Pete, let me ask you a question.”Peter, recognizing the pattern that Jesus so often used, steadied himself and hoped his teacher would be proud of the answer.”Pete, all the kings of the earth levy taxes. Who do they tax, their family or others?”Peter answered, “Others.”Jesus said, “That’s right.”Even as Peter was accepting his “Attaboy” he knew his master was just winding up to throw a curve ball.And Jesus did. “So, knowing that the money was for God’s house, the temple, then God’s true children should not have to pay.”While Peter was still reeling from that unforeseen twist, Jesus decided to cause further amazement by sending Peter to go fishing.And without hesitation, Peter grabbed his trust ol’ canepole and went fishing. The first fish he caught had enough money in its mouth to pay both of their taxes.Great story, amen?But what does it mean for you and me?Are we to pay the “temple tax” or not?No! Absolutely not!Did that get your attention? Good. Hear what Paul wrote to the early Christians.2 Corinthians 9:5-135. So I thought that I should encourage our coworkers to visit you before I do and make arrangements for this gift that you had already promised to give. Then it will be the blessing it was intended to be, and it won’t be something you’re forced to do. 6. Remember this: The farmer who plants a few seeds will have a very small harvest. But the farmer who plants because he has received God’s blessings will receive a harvest of God’s blessings in return. 7. Each of you should give whatever you have decided. You shouldn’t be sorry that you gave or feel forced to give, since God loves a cheerful giver. 8. Besides, God will give you his constantly overflowing kindness. Then, when you always have everything you need, you can do more and more good things. 9. Scripture says, “The righteous person gives freely to the poor. His righteousness continues forever.” 10. God gives seed to the farmer and food to those who need to eat. God will also give you seed and multiply it. In your lives he will increase the things you do that have his approval. 11. God will make you rich enough so that you can always be generous. Your generosity will produce thanksgiving to God because of us. 12. What you do to serve others not only provides for the needs of God’s people, but also produces more and more prayers of thanksgiving to God. 13. You will honor God through this genuine act of service because of your commitment to spread the Good News of Christ and because of your generosity in sharing with them and everyone else.”What you promise to God is between you and God. Each of you should give whatever you have decided. You shouldn’t be sorry that you gave or feel forced to give.”There is no temple tax that you are required to give to your church.However, remember Jesus said, “But so that we may not become an obstacle to them.” And he provided the money to pay the temple tax.Wait. What about tithing? Isn’t there some law about that?Well, that’s not an easy one to answer because tithing (giving 1/10th of your wealth) predates the Law of a Moses by hundred of years. Abraham tithed. (Genesis 14:18-20) 18. Then in truth, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine, for he was a priest of the Most High God; 19. he blessed him, and he said: “Blessed be Abram by the Most High God, who created heaven and earth. 20. And blessed be the Most High God, through whose protection the enemies are in your hands.” And he gave him tithes from everything. So Abraham gave to God, through Melchizedek, 1/10th of all he had because he recognized that Mel was a true priest of the true God.Now, about that Law. Leviticus 27:30 “All the tithes of the land, whether from the grain, or from the fruits of trees, are for the Lord and are sanctified to him.”So one tenth of every increase belongs to the Lord. And it’s the first 10% not the last.In Matthew 23:23 Jesus condemns the Pharisees not not for tithing, but for their abandoning the greater parts of the law. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! For you collect tithes on mint and dill and cumin, but you have abandoned the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, while not omitting the others.”I have to tell you that theologians and church officials are divided over tithing. But one thing they all agree on, Clearly in both the Old Testament and New God’s people are expected to use their resources to be of service to others and to further God’s kingdom.John Wesley said, “

When a man becomes a Christian, he becomes industrious, trustworthy and prosperous. Now, if that man when he gets all he can and saves all he can, does not give all he can, I have more hope for Judas Iscariot than for that man!”

My recommendation to you give whatever you have decided. But give it freely, expecting nothing in return. Just as salvation is a gift unearned and freely given.I love the hymn by Carol Owens, Freely, Freely
ChorusHe said freely freelyYou have received

Freely freely give
Go in My name
And because you believe
Others will know that I live.
Go in the peace of God: Father, Son, and Holy SpiritGive of yourself as God has given to you. Amen.Also visit my other blogs

  • Tom and Ella’s Daily Journal of Our Lives


  • Visit my devotions blog new devotions every day (nearly)

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