While Jesus was in Galilee with the Twelve, he said to them, “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. But he will rise on the third day.” The Twelve were deeply grieved.
When they returned to Capernaum, the temple tax collectors came to Peter and asked him, “Does your master pay the temple tax?” He answered, “Yes.”
Peter then entered the house; and immediately, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Simon? Who pay taxes or tribute to the kings of the earth: their sons or strangers and aliens?” Peter replied, “Strangers and aliens.” And Jesus told him, “The sons, then, are tax-free. But, so as not to offend these people, go to the sea, throw in a hook, and open the mouth of the first fish you catch. You will find a coin in it. Take the coin and give it to them for you and for me.”
The historical background of today’s gospel episode is that, at the time of Jesus (that is, before the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D.), every male Jew of nineteen years old and older had to make an annual contribution for the upkeep of the temple (cf. Ex 30:11-16; Neh 10:33; 2 Chr 24:6, 9).
Now, since Jesus and his followers belong to the Kingdom of heaven, according to Jesus’ reasoning in this passage, they are not bound to pay a tax imposed on those who are not of the Kingdom. This is all the more true in the case of Jesus because, in the strict sense of the word, he is the “Son of the King.” Therefore, the King’s tax (God’s tax) is not for Jesus and his “brothers.”
Once this point is made clear to Peter, then Jesus goes on to say that, even though he and Peter have no obligation to pay the temple tax because of their very special relationship to God, nevertheless they will pay it “so as not to offend the people” collecting that tax.
This teaching of Jesus should inspire our own behavior. Our charity towards our neighbor should be such that, as much as is reasonably possible, we should avoid giving offense.
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