“When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?’ He said, ‘Yes, he does.’ And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?’ When Peter said, ‘From others’, Jesus said to him, ‘Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offence to them, go to the lake and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.’”
I heard this passage recently via the wonderful pray-as-you-go podcast. I accidentally listened to the same episode again, a week later, and this passage has been ringing around in my head ever since. Especially that beautiful line, “then the children are free”.
To be clear, this post is emphatically one about paying the temple tax, and about Jesus’s identity. As Craig Keener says, “It is not because Jesus is not in solidarity with Judaism (for he is), but rather because he is the hope of Judaism, that he need not pay.” However, I want to do something a little different with this passage.
It can sometimes be difficult to translate the political language of the New Testament into the language of the modern world system. “From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute?” How about, “From whose labor do the powerful of the earth profit?” Not from their children.
Because let me tell you, in the status quo, none of us are children. None of us are free.
But if God is our true king, and we are all God’s children, then we all are.
The world makes many demands on us. It tells us that if we are not useful, we are not deserving of life. If we are not useful to the capitalist machine, we are useless. And depending on what social classes we belong to, much worse may happen to us.
But if God is our true king, and if God is our true mother, than we are free. We owe nothing. No debt is owed. There is no such thing as a useless person because people are not meant to be used. We owe no toll or tribute, and we are free.
There is no entry fee for the kingdom of heaven, so there is no one who cannot pay. All are welcome to come and be transformed and receive new life. No matter who you are. I’ll even go so far as, no matter whether you even believe in God. Whatever those church people have told you disqualifies you from the kingdom of heaven: they are lying.