Jesus did not have to pay the temple tax because he was the Son of God. However, he paid it so as not to give offence, out of his love for humankind.
According to Matthew, on a certain occasion the men who were collecting the annual temple-tax, the purpose of which was the maintenance of the sanctuary and of the whole temple, came up to Peter and asked him whether or not their Master paid the corresponding two drachma,
The law was clear. Every male citizen over the age of 20 was required to make this contribution (Ex. 30:11-16). It had never entered Peter’s head that Jesus might refuse to pay, so he immediately said yes.
It is curious that Matthew is the only evangelist who mentions this episode. Was he prompted to do so because of the fact that he too had once been a tax collector? This might well have been the reason why he took an interest in what the Master had to say about this matter.
It is evident that nothing escaped Jesus’s notice, even if he was not actually present, because he knew human beings very well and because, of course, he was the Son of God.
Therefore, when he entered the home of Peter in Capernaum he asked directly, “What do you think Simon? “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” (Matt. 17:25). Of course Peter said, “from others”. How could a king extract taxes from his own child?
Then the Master concluded, “Then the children are exempt,” … “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” (Matthew 17:26-27).
How can anyone argue that Jesus never claimed to be God’s Son? The New Testament is full of evidence of this kind.
It is common knowledge that fish leap at anything that shines and moves in the water and swallow it immediately. This is especially so with freshwater fish, such as the fish in the sea of Galilee or the lake of Gennesaret, as in this environment there are not so many prey as in the open sea.
It is plausible that a fisherman might have lost a coin while he was fishing, which then sank into the water, zig-zagging as it made its way towards the bottom.
The intermittent reflections of the coin as it caught the light passing through the water might well have attracted fish to it, until the fastest of them – the first fish – caught it in its mouth. As it proved impossible to digest a piece of metal of this kind, the coin would have remained in the unfortunate fish’s mouth for some time until Peter, a skilful fisherman, threw in his bait and fished it out.
Thus, this miraculous sign involved no alteration of the laws of nature but, rather simply presupposed an extraordinary knowledge of reality and of everything that occurs in it.
Jesus is simply alert to everything that happens in the world. He knows everything about every organism.
This incident has been criticised by sceptics. Why would Jesus perform a miracle like this for such a trivial reason? Is it not a self-centred action that was only going to benefit Peter and Jesus himself? If it was so easy for him to get money, why did he say that he had nowhere to lay his head? Etc. etc.
However, those who put forward objections like this forget the deepest meaning of the sign. And this meaning has to do precisely with the reason why the Son of God was crucified.
It is about love and mercy towards humankind, and the fact that he renounced his own rights with the intention of not being a stumbling block for others.
Later, the apostle Paul would also write, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13). And also “But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12).
Jesus did not have to pay the temple tax because he was the Son of God himself. However, he paid it so as not to give offence, so as not to generate unnecessary scandal. That is to say, out of his love for humankind.
What a great lesson for us today! Lord teach us never to be stumbling blocks for anyone!