According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Paying Unwanted Temple Taxes: What's a Good Fisherman To Do?

A Fishy Story

by Rebecca Trotter
June 3, 2012

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

“Yes, he does,” he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?”

“From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him.“But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

Jesus and His disciples, paying their due at Capernaum

I wonder if Peter actually went out fishing after this conversation? Most commenters on the text assume that he did and found his coin and paid the tax. Another of Jesus’ miracles. But the bible doesn’t say anything about it. You would think that it would at least add, “Peter did as he was instructed and found it just as Jesus had said” or something.... I kind of think that he didn’t do it.

The two drachma tax was a yearly tax collected to support the upkeep of the temple. It would have been paid to the temple one attended. It wasn’t exactly something that a good Jew paid when visiting a town as Jesus was visiting Capernaum. Some have speculated that visiting rabbis would pay the tax in order to teach at the local temple. But we know that at various times and places, priests exempted themselves from paying the tax altogether. Perhaps the collectors weren't actually demanding payment. Perhaps they were inquiring as to whether Jesus paid the tax as a lay-person or if he exempted himself as a priest. Or maybe they were just doing the sort of thing that gave tax collectors such a bad rep and trying to shake down righteous Jews who were afraid of causing offense or falling out of line.

Modern Day Capernaum
Whatever the reason, Peter gives an immediate wrong answer. The question is one of those “when did you stop beating your wife, senator?” sort of questions that impugns the person it is directed towards. And Peter gives what seems like the right answer to the implied slur against his teacher. 

“[Why] yes, of course he pays it! Why would you think he doesn’t?” It is entirely possible that he doesn’t actually know if Jesus paid the temple tax. Perhaps the question and the reality that Jesus didn’t have a home temple made him wonder if Jesus had paid the tax at all. Where would he pay it? In Nazareth? Jerusalem? He didn’t have a home temple. Peter was a zealous Jew. The idea that maybe his master had skirted the rules made him uneasy. Should they have been paying the tax at each temple in each town they visited? They traveled an awful lot – that could get to be an onerous burden. (I tend to think that the tax collectors were not actively trying to collect the tax as many commenters assume. There is no mention of any further conversation between Peter and the tax collectors in the text.)

When [Peter] arrives back at the place where Jesus is staying, perhaps a bit unsettled by the exchange he just [had] had, Jesus immediately pipes up. He makes it clear that the whole thing is a bit silly. He’s the son of the king. Even if they were supposed to be paying the tax everywhere, he’s exempt. Stop being such a worry-wart. You’re straining at gnats and swallowing camels, he tells him.

Then he offers Peter the zealous rule follower and out: go fishing and you’ll find the coin. Take it and pay the tax. That way you will know that the tax has been paid. You won’t risk being embarrassed at my bad behavior. If someone ever asks again, you can answer with certainty that the tax has been paid.

I kind of think that there was some good natured ribbing going on here. Jesus offends people all the time, especially the religious establishment. What does he care if the tax collectors are “offended”? They were probably trying to shake Peter and Jesus down anyways. The solution is a bit silly: go get a coin from the mouth of a fish. Not that he couldn’t do it or that it wouldn’t happen as he said. But why not just tell him to go talk to Judas to get the money?

And finally, his suggestion that Peter take the money for both him and himself is a final, sharp jab, I think. If Peter did that, he would essentially be admitting that neither he nor his master had already settled this debt. He would be admitting that his answer was premature at best. And frankly, if they are the sons of the king and exempt from paying the tax, isn’t paying it an admission that their station is not all that Jesus has been claiming it to be?

So what does Peter do? Does he go and find the fish and it’s coin? Salve his zealous, rule following conscience? Or does he feel a bit foolish for taking the tax collector’s bait and doubting himself and his master and just sit down? We really don’t know.

On the Gospel Trail looking down onto Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee

Topography of Israel

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