16 November 2011

Matthew 17:22-27

"So that we do not give offence to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me." (v. 27)


After another warning about Jesus' coming suffering we find this strange little story about paying the temple tax. Rather than being a civil tax in support of Rome the temple tax was levied on every male Jew between 20 and 50 in order to support the temple and its services. One can imagine Jesus sitting in a church service today and the person holding the offering plate rattling it next to Jesus and whispering to Peter, "Doesn't he put anything in the collection?"

In fact Jesus does pay the temple tax - although he assures Peter that they are not obliged to do so. Whilst the manner in which they raise the cash is strange (going fishing in the hope of catching some money is probably not the best fundraising strategy) Jesus' reason for paying it is perhaps even stranger: it is "so that we do not give offence". It's rare that Jesus comes across as someone who doesn't want to offend! Indeed, later on in Matthew's story he is in the same temple overturning tables and driving out all those buying and selling there (Matthew 21:12-13).

However, it's clear from this story that he is opposed to causing needless offence.

Perhaps Jesus is simply wise enough to pick his battles ('let's not rattle the cage with this one Peter because soon I'm going to do something that's really going to upset them') or maybe there is pragmatism there; the temple needs funds for its upkeep after all. Besides, it's not the temple or its worship per se that Jesus is opposed to; like his disciples, Jesus was a good Jew.

Whatever the reason, there is a comic tone to this vignette of home life with Jesus and Peter, a lightening of the story before the heartache that is soon to come.

To Ponder

Is it surprising to you that Jesus didn't want to offend people in this case? Why? Or why not?

When do you think it is right to offend people and when should we refrain from offending?

Bible notes author

The Revd Ric Stott

Ric Stott is a Methodist minister and works for the Sheffield Methodist District as a Venture FX pioneer exploring new ways of being church, based around the creative arts. He is an artist and art psychotherapist, and is particularly interested in how creativity can help us to explore and develop spirituality, identity and community.