“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, 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.” Matthew 17:26-27
Jesus doesn’t want to cause offence. Yet often, we see the religious leaders highly offended about the things Jesus said and did. Jesus wasn’t afraid to upset these leaders when their traditions and customs created hardship, or showed a lack of compassion for people. However, he wasn’t going to cause offence over incidentals, like paying temple tax.
Temple tax was instituted in Moses’ time while the Israelites were in the wilderness (Exodus 30:11-16). Jesus explains to Peter that children of a king don’t pay tax and as God’s children we are children of a King. Therefore Jesus and his disciples were exempt from paying tax to maintain the temple. Jesus may also be hinting that because of his coming, temple worship as outlined in the Mosaic Law, was drawing to a close.
As Christians, there are many things we are exempt from, such as performing rituals, keeping traditions, maintaining ceremonies that have lost their meaning. It’s important to make a stand on issues of importance but not with incidentals. Sometimes it’s best to avoid causing unnecessary offence.
An interesting aside to this story is that Jesus was with all his disciples (verse 24) yet only Jesus and Peter paid the temple tax. The tax was only required of those who were over twenty years of age. This suggests the rest of the disciples were teenagers.