Chapter 54 – Matthew 17: Death and Taxes

death and taxes

I’ve questioned my reasons
This life that I’m living
I’ve questioned my ability
To judge wrong from right
I’ve questioned all the things that I’ve ever called certain
My race, my religion, my country, my mind

But the one thing I don’t question is you
You really love me like you say you do” – Paul Colman, The One Thing, from the 2005 album “Let It Go”

There’s an old saying that goes something like, “The only certain things in life are death and taxes”. It’s not exactly true if you follow the Christ, but they are topics covered by Him in today’s chapter. Jesus starts off by predicting His coming death at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders and ends by paying the required temple tax in an unusual and unique manner.

Life is uncertain. One thing that’s not: we’re all going to die someday. That’s a given. No one makes it out alive. So the fact that the very human Jesus is going to also die should not be surprising in the least. What is surprising is that in verse 23 He states that He will be raised from the dead on the third day AND the disciples were still filled with grief. It’s almost like they stopped listening after He said He would be killed and never heard the part that came afterwards. To me, that’s the most amazing part. People just don’t come back from the dead (unless you’re a zombie – but let’s be realistic here). How are the disciples sad about this news? I mean, yes, it’s unheard of but the whole time they’ve been with the Christ He’s been doing the impossible. So why stop believing now?

It wouldn’t be until Pentecost (Acts 2) that the disciples understood only His death and subsequent resurrection would usher in His kingdom. One problem is that right now, pre-crucifixion, they are still expecting an earthly kingdom to be established.  They just don’t understand Jesus, which means we should be gentle with ourselves when it comes to our own understanding of Him. “After all, His disciples spent years with Him, saw His miracles, heard His words, and still had difficulty understanding” (Study Bible, p. 1579).

I accepted Jesus as my savior at four years old. I’ve been hearing about Him my entire life. And still, every time I open the gospels I learn something new about this man claiming to be God. And even if I live to be a hundred, I’ll still need an eternity to more fully grasp who He is and what He’s really like; how He works and why He does things the way He does.

Next, Matthew – the former tax collector – recounts a story not found in the other gospels about Jesus being approached to pay the Temple tax imposed upon all Jewish males. It’s from the old testament Mosaic law (Exodus 30:11-6) and the money is used for the temple upkeep. As the King of kings, technically, Jesus owed no taxes so Peter’s answer is correct: Kings tax the people they have conquered, not their own people. Yet Jesus pays the tax anyway.

He sends Peter (a former fisherman) to collect the tax money from the first fish he catches. Why does Jesus give in and why does He send Peter to do the work? In Romans 13, the apostle Paul states that we are to submit to the governing authorities. Jesus is just following protocol. He’s leaving us an example of how we are to maneuver this world. As His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) while we really belong to His heavenly kingdom, we are to also follow the rules and laws of this world in order to be a solid representative of His. Peter is sent because he is the one who gave the answer. But to keep from offending those who didn’t understand Jesus’ kingship, he is recruited to perform a previously familiar task: fish.

Jesus tells him to take the large silver coin he will find in the mouth of the fish and to “pay the tax for both of us” (v. 27b). While Jesus requires us to represent Him faithfully in this world, He will often ask us to do so in a manner that fits within our given skill set AND He will provide enough grace to cover us as well. We’re not told how this segment ends. Matthew doesn’t record Peter’s reaction or if he carried out Jesus’ instructions. The whole ending is implied. But can you imagine being Peter? Really Lord, I’m going to find enough money inside a random fish to pay the tax for both of us?

It’s a tremendous act of faith. How many fish had Peter caught in his life to know that you don’t find money inside of them? Like ever?

What is Jesus asking me to step out in faith and do that doesn’t make sense? Whether it’s believe that He’ll come back from the dead, or provide a silver coin to pay a tax – with Him it doesn’t have to follow mortal reasoning. I just have to do it – and be willing to watch Him work.

Published by

Kris White

Kris White resides in the southwest desert community of Las Vegas, Nevada. She has two furry children, Ben and Mack. She is the awesome aunt to world jumpers Pike and Jude, and the author of the recently published book, The Third Gate: Book One in the Gates Trilogy.

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