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,
“Does not 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.”
Trying to figure out who owes tax in this passage is no less complicated than understanding our current tax codes! It leaves one just a bit confused. Jews did have obligations to pay taxes to the Roman empire. They paid land tax,property tax,import tax, export tax, a Jerusalem house tax, and various tolls.Along with these Roman taxes, Jews also paid the half-shekel annual temple tax.When the collector asked if Jesus paid this temple tax, might he have indirectly questioning his allegiance to Judaism? Peter quickly answered yes he does, but Jesus saw this as a good time for instruction. In a roundabout way, he questions if they really owe this tax: hinting that they are not really from the Kingdom of Judea, but actually from from Gods Kingdom. With the money coming from the fish’s mouth rather than from their wallets, Jesus also hints that even the money comes from God and not Judea. The final lesson is that Peter can’t use Jesus teachings as a tax free deduction: good citizens still must support their community.Admittedly it seem to be an odd text, requiring the historical understanding to more fully understand it, but certain fundamental issues can be extracted from it. First loyalty to community, versus loyalty to God, and fidelity to self. The story does not present a solution that results in direct conflict (Black vs. White), but rather it is solved through a reasoned compromise and diplomacy riddled with humor. One has to wonder what Peter thought through out this exchange?