Dying to Self

As Jesus and his disciples were gathering in Galilee,
Jesus said to them,
“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men,
and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.”
And they were overwhelmed with grief.

When they came to Capernaum,
the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said,
“Does not your teacher pay the temple tax?”
“Yes,” he said.
When he came into the house, before he had time to speak,
Jesus asked him, “What is your opinion, Simon?
From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax?
From their subjects or from foreigners?”
When he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him,
“Then the subjects are exempt.
But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook,
and take the first fish that comes up.
Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax.
Give that to them for me and for you.
(Matthew 17:22-27)

Scripture Study

17:24 The temple tax: before the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in a.d. 70 every male Jew above nineteen years of age was obliged to make an annual contribution to its upkeep (cf. Ex 30:11–16; Neh 10:33). After the destruction the Romans imposed upon Jews the obligation of paying that tax for the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. There is disagreement about which period the story deals with.

17:25 From their subjects or from foreigners?: the Greek word here translated subjects literally means “sons.”

17:26 Then the subjects are exempt: just as subjects are not bound by laws applying to foreigners, neither are Jesus and his disciples, who belong to the kingdom of heaven, bound by the duty of paying the temple tax imposed on those who are not of the kingdom. If the Greek is translated “sons,” the freedom of Jesus, the Son of God, and of his disciples, children (“sons”) of the kingdom (cf. Mt 13:38), is even more clear.

17:27 That we may not offend them: though they are exempt (Mt 17:26), Jesus and his disciples are to avoid giving offense; therefore the tax is to be paid. A coin worth twice the temple tax: literally, “a stater,” a Greek coin worth two double drachmas. Two double drachmas were equal to the Jewish shekel and the tax was a half-shekel. For me and for you: not only Jesus but Peter pays the tax, and this example serves as a standard for the conduct of all the disciples.

Scripture Reflection

Jesus offers an important example of humility here. As God’s Son, he does not have to pay the temple tax. However, he pays it to avoid unnecessarily offending the collectors. There is nothing immoral in paying the tax and no larger religious principle is at stake. So rather than exert his rights, he humbly gives in to their request in order to build bridges with his opponents.

Imagine how much greater unity there would be in Christian marriages, families, parishes, and communities if people had the humble attitude of Jesus. In things nonessential, it is often better to give in to the preferences of others than to insist on one’s own opinion or way, even if we are convinced that we are right. Sometimes it is better to humbly die to self for the sake of unity with our spouse, friend, or colleague than to cause division by fighting vehemently for a position that in the end is not a serious matter. If Jesus was willing to give in to others rather than defend what was justly due to him, we should not do any less.

– Edward Sri

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.