Thursday, August 01, 2019

The tribute money

Q. What is the meaning of the tribute money in Matthew 17?

Text: Matthew 17:24-27 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.

A. The tribute here is a sort of tax. Probably it is the half shekel “temple tax” of Exodus 30:11-16.[i] “Tribute” is a didrachma (δίδραχμα), which Strong’s says is equal to one-half a shekel.

Peter was often quick to answer. Here his quick answer was that, yes, his master did pay tribute.[ii] However, Jesus stops him and questions him making him think more deeply about it. If this supported the worship of the temple or synagogue, and he was really who Peter believed he was – the Son of God (Matthew 16:16) – Jesus would not actually owe or pay the tribute. It is his Father’s house! Nevertheless, Jesus said he would pay the tribute because it could be an offense or obstacle. Not all would understand why he should be exempt.

The money in the fish’s mouth is an obvious miracle.[iii] It demonstrates that, though Jesus has the position not to pay, but he has the passion and power to pay anyway – confirming what he told Peter. Interestingly, the piece of money is the Greek statera (στατῆρα), which is equal to a Jewish shekel. Therefore, it was enough to pay a half-shekel for Jesus and a half-shekel for Peter, who owed the tax. The piece of money was just enough to pay the tribute, accenting our Lord’s moderation. He had no love for temporal things, and they had no hold on him (Proverbs 15:27).

Finally, the owner of all silver and gold (Haggai 2:8) did not have the money to pay the tax. Rather he borrowed it from his creation (Genesis 1:20-23)! This reminds us that “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

[i] It is not the Roman civil tax, discussed elsewhere (see footnote 2), but for religious service; the point of the story depends on that fact.
[ii] On another occasion, Jesus supported paying the taxes of a temporal government, Matthew 22:15–22.
[iii] Though perhaps only a miracle of omniscience rather than a miracle of creation. That is, Jesus knowing the money was in the fish’s mouth and providing that Peter catch that particular fish, as opposed to creating the coin in the fish’s mouth as Peter caught it. It matters little, in that the God who can do one can do the other. Compare Matthew 9:5.

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