(Capernaum, Autumn, a.d.29)
^A Matt. XVII.24-27.
^a 24 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received the half-shekel came to Peter, and said, Doth not your teacher pay the half-shekel? [The law of Moses required from every male of twenty years and upward the payment of a tax of half a shekel for the support of the temple (Ex. xxx.12-16; II. Chron. xxiv.5, 6). This tax was collected annually. We are told that a dispute existed between the Pharisees and Sadducees as to whether the payment of this tribute was voluntary or compulsory. The collectors of it may have thought that Jesus regarded its payment as voluntary, or they may have thought that Jesus considered himself exempt from it because he was so great a rabbi. Though this temple tax was usually collected in March, Lightfoot informs us that the payment of it was so irregular that its receivers kept two chests; in one of which was placed the tax for the current year, and in the other that for the year past. The demand was made upon Jesus at Capernaum because that was his residence, and it was not made sooner because of the wandering life which he led. It appears that since the first of April he had been in Capernaum only once for a brief period, probably no longer than a Sabbath day (John vi.22-24). The Jewish shekel answered to the Greek stater, which has been variously estimated as worth from fifty to seventy-five cents. The stater contained four drachmæ, and a drachma was about equivalent to a Roman denarius, or seventeen cents.] 25 He saith, Yea. [Peter answered with his usual impulsive presumption. Probably he had known the tribute to be paid before out of the general fund held by Judas; or he may have assumed that Jesus would fulfill this as one of God's requirements.] And when he came into the house, Jesus spake first to him [without waiting for him to tell what he had said], saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? the kings of the earth, from whom do they receive toll or tribute? from their sons, or from strangers? 26 And when he said, From strangers, Jesus said unto him, Therefore the sons are free. [The argument is this: If the sons of kings are free from the payment of tribute, I, the Son of God, am free from God's tribute. The half-shekel was regarded as given to God -- Jos. Ant. xviii.9.1.] 27 But, lest we cause them to stumble [lest we be totally misunderstood, and be thought to teach that men should not pay this tribute to God], go thou to the sea [of Galilee], and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a shekel: that take, and give unto them for me and thee. [Jesus paid the tribute in such a manner as to show that the whole realm of nature was tributary to him, and that he was indeed the Son of the great King. Some have thought that our Lord's beneficence, in paying Peter's tax also, was an evidence that Peter, too, was exempt from tribute. But the conclusion is not well drawn. Had this been intended, Jesus would have said |for us,| and would not have used the words |for me and thee,| which distinguished between the exempted Son and the unexempted subject. Though afterward Peter might possibly have claimed exemption as a child of God by adoption, he was not yet free from this duty to pay this tax -- John i.12.]