Not to Offend

Obol in the Mouth of the Fish
The Miracle of the Obol in the Mouth of the Fish (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Matthew 17:24–27 (ESV)

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 offense 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.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

We are not told the identity of the tax collectors who approached Peter. Some argue that they were likely collecting a Roman civil tax. However, it seems more likely, and is the traditional view, that the collectors were Jewish and that they were visiting the residents of Capernaum (like Peter and Jesus) to collect a temple tax that would have been sent to Jerusalem in time for Passover. When asked if Jesus would pay the tax, Peter affirmed that he would. We then read Jesus’ words to Peter about the tax.

Jesus asked Peter if kings taxed their own sons. Of course they do not. They tax those outside of their own families. The royal family would not pay taxes to the king. Jesus then replies, “Then the sons are free.” The point is that the true King and his family do not pay taxes. Of course, Jesus and his disciples are in view here. Jesus is the true King and the disciples are his children. However, Jesus explained to Peter that they would pay the tax, not out of obligation, but in order not to offend.

As followers of Christ, the disciples were free from the authority of the Jewish religious leaders and the religious system of the temple. With Jesus, the temple system was finding its fulfillment (cf. Matthew 12:5-6, 41-42; Mark 7:19). Yet, it was important not to offend in order to show love and make it possible to speak the truth of the gospel.

As Christ’s followers in the world today, we also must be willing to give up our rights for the benefit of others (1 Corinthians 8-9). We do this so that we can gain every opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and so that we can show the same kind of love towards others that the Lord has shown to us. May God help us to put his plans before our own and to put others before ourselves.

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