[Jesus said,] “…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.” (Mt. 17:27b)
This passage (verses 24-27) is very rich in several ways. First, by asking questions, Jesus teaches Peter and us that our Father is the Great High King of Heaven who owns the earth and all things. Because we are His children through His Son, Jesus Christ, our heavenly Father imposes no taxes on us. We are the completely free and infinitely loved children of the King.
The second thing that Jesus teaches us here is that there are times when it is important not to cause offense. In such cases, even though we are not compelled by God to comply, we willingly limit our own personal freedom in Christ for the sake of others. This is what Jesus did for us and for all humanity when He set aside the use of all of His divine powers to become fully human. Jesus severely limited His personal freedom because He loved us and He wanted to save us.
Because of Jesus’ great love for us, we respond by willingly limiting our personal freedom for the sake of others. We step out of our world and into the world of others, even though the sin in the other person’s life is obvious to us. We “move” into their “neighbourhood” and try to see things from their perspective. We don’t have to “do” anything except “be” with them where they are at, and through this ministry of being present, God does something amazing.
When I was serving as a student chaplain at a psychiatric hospital, my supervisor explained it this way: “When you visit someone, you are doing so as a representative of the Light, Jesus Christ. When you are able to be present with the other person in the midst of the dark pit that they are in, they begin to realize that they are not alone and that there is light in the darkness. Then they have hope, and they begin to come up out of the darkness on their own. You don’t need to rescue them.”
Finally, note that, in this case, the temple tax for two people is, in this case, paid with a single coin. While I could, in my Christian freedom, pay my temple tax on my own, my gift is not complete without yours.
This is love. This is what Jesus has done for us. This is what we can do for others.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, please help me to live in the freedom that you give to me. Fill me to overflowing with your love so that I am moved, because of love, to willingly limit my freedom for the sake of others. Help me to join my gifts with others to do your work. Amen.