07 December 2010

Jesus Knew Which Hill to Die On

Matthew 17:24-27

Many people, lately, have said to me that Jesus never claimed to be anything more than a great prophet or teacher.

Those who make such claims never read through the ministry of Jesus.  I have made this point before, but it is so important that it demands repetition.  Jesus said things that no mere prophet of God would say.  A prophet's task is to speak the words/truths of God to who God wanted to speak them to.  A true prophet never sought glory for himself, a true prophet always directed the glory to God.

Jesus uses this occasion of the temple tax, a tax collected from those in Israel for maintenance of the temple in Jerusalem, to once again explain his place in the Kingdom of God.  (It is interesting to note that the tax collector-disciple is the only gospel writer to relay this occasion to us.)  "Then the children are free."

The temple was the presence of God among his people.  It is where God "lived".  People would come to the temple to remember the Lord their God; to pray and to worship in festivals and holy days as the living God had commanded them.  It was certainly right for the people who used the temple for these good purposes to pay toward the upkeep of the facilities they used.

Jesus went to the temple also.  But, Jesus seemed to treat the temple differently than the others.  For Jesus, it seemed more personal.  As he drove out the businessmen from the Court of the Gentiles, he referred to the temple as "my Father's house".

To Peter, in private, he once again refers to the personal relationship to his Father.  Jesus is the Heavenly Father's son.  Because of this, he is exempt from paying the tax, because it is his Father's house.  Jesus rightly points out through his usual manner of logical questions that children of kings do not pay tax.  The tax is collected from others.  The children are free.  (It is interesting to note that Jesus seems to link the concepts of taxation and freedom, but maybe this would stretch the point.)

Please note, did Jesus use the occasion of the temple tax to exert his rightful authority over the religious class?  Did Jesus use the questioning about the temple tax to overtly proclaim that he was the Son of God?  Did Jesus tightly cling to his right to not pay the tax? 

No.  Jesus explained himself to the one who answered for him, Peter.  And then instructed Peter on how to pay the tax not just for Jesus, but for Peter as well.  Jesus humbly submitted himself to the authorities.  He did what he always does, he humbles himself and stays on the task that his Father sends Him to do.

Jesus didn't feed off a need for everyone to think he was right.  Jesus was mature enough to know what arguments to have and what arguments to ignore.  Too many times, I find myself expending so much energy arguing minutiae that I have little to nothing left for the tasks that truly require my effort.

Oh, Father.  As a follower of your Son Jesus, please help me to know when to argue and when to serve.  Give me your Son's wisdom in dealing with those who do not understand the nature of your kingdom.