MATTHEW 17:24-27 OUR KING AND THE TRIBUTE MONEY
24. And when they were come to Capernaum,, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?
The half-shekel tribute was a religious payment, based originally on law, but enlarged by a custom which had no support in Scripture. It was ordained by the divine law to be paid for each person to the Lord when the people were counted. From this redemption money there was no exemption; but it was not a tax levied year by year. It had gradually grown into a fashion among professedly religious people to pay this “tribute money ” every year; but the payment was entirely optional. Thus, it was established by custom, but it had not been appointed by law, and could not be enforced by it. It was a voluntary annual gift, and only persons who were professed devotees of the Jewish religion would pay it. Such religionists as these would be very particular, not only to pay the annual tribute, but to have it known that they paid it. The collectors of half-shekels did not apply at once to Jesus, of whom, it may be, they stood in salutary awe; but they addressed Peter with the somewhat ensnaring question, “Doth not your master pay tribute ? “As much as to say, “Surely he does so: we would not suspect him of neglecting to do so. A person of such eminence cannot fail to be peculiarly exact as to this customary fee.”
25, 26. He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
Peter was in such a hurry to vindicate his Lord that he compromised him. “He saith, Yes. ” He might have asked his Lord’s mind, or he might have referred the collectors to Jesus himself; but he was in a hurry, and thought himself safe enough in maintaining his Master’s reputation. He was quite certain that his Lord would do all that good people did. Our Savior and his cause have often suffered from the zeal of friends. Christ is better known by what he says himself than by what his friends say for him.
Peter was out of doors at the time he gave his quick reply, and little did he think that the Lord Jesus would note what he had said, and tell him of it as soon as he w as come into the house; but so it was.
Our Lord began with Peter upon the subject before he had time to state his action or defend it: “Jesus prevented him. ” He knew what his servant had been doing, and he hastened to set him right. As he had been but little of a Peter in this case, our Lord calls him “Simon. ” He questions him: “What thinkest thou, Simon? ” He will make him judge in the case. Do kings take poll-tax of their own children, or of strangers? Of course, the family of the prince was always free from the levy. The king’s subjects, and especially the aliens under his rule, must pay the capitation charge; but the princes of the blood royal were free. Should Jesus pay redemption-money for himself to God? Should he, who is himself the King’s Son, come under poll-tax to his Father? If tribute money has become a tax to be levied in the kingdom of God, “then are the children free. ” Neither Jesus nor Peter was bound to pay. Peter had not seen the matter in this light.
27. Notwithstanding, lest we should of send them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.
Our Savior would not willingly give ground for offense. He was not bound to pay; but rather than raise a scandal, he would pay both for himself and for Peter. How gracious were his words: “Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them ”! If the question had remained by itself, clear from other circumstances, our Lord might, on principle, have declined to pay the tribute-money; but Peter’s rash declaration had compromised his Lord, and he would not seem to be false to the promise made by his follower.
Besides, Peter would be involved in a dispute, and Jesus will far rather pay than leave his servant in a difficulty. When the pocket is involved in a matter of principle, we must be careful that we do not even seem to be saving our money by a pretense. Usually, it will be wisest to pay under protest, lest it should appear that we are careful of conscience in a special degree when we can also be careful of our cash.
The manner of payment prevented the act from compromising our Lord.
Very interesting was the hooking of the fish which brought the silver in its mouth. “Take up fish that first cometh up and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shall find a piece of money. ” Very remarkable the providence which caused the shekel to fall into the sea, and made the fish first to swallow it, and then to rise to the hook as soon as Peter began his angling.
Thus the great Son pays the tax levied for his Father’s house; but he exercises his royal prerogative in the act, and takes the shekel out of the royal treasury. As man he pays, but first as God he causes the fish to bring him the shekel in its mouth.
The piece of money was enough to pay for Peter as well as for his Lord.
Thus did our Lord submit to be treated as one who had forfeited life, and must have a half-shekel paid as redemption-money for him. This he has done for our sake, and in association with us; and we are redeemed by his act, and in union with him: for he said of the piece of money, “That take, and go unto them for me and thee. ” There were not two half-shekels, but one piece of money, paid for Jesus and Peter: thus we see that his people are joined with him in the one redemption. “He bore on the tree the sentence for me, And now both the Surety and sinner are free.” The obvious moral lesson is, — Pay rather than cause offense.
But far greater and deeper truths lie slumbering down below. They are such as these: the glorious freedom of the Son, his coming under tribute for our sakes, and the clearance of himself and us by the one payment which he himself provided.