Do they pay the temple tax? (Mt 17:24-17:25)

“When they reached

Capernaum,

The collectors

Of the temple tax

Came to Peter.

They said.

‘Does your teacher

Not pay the tax?’

Peter said.

‘Yes!

He does!’”

 

Ἐλθόντων δὲ αὐτῶν εἰς Καφαρναοὺμ προσῆλθον οἱ τὰ δίδραχμα λαμβάνοντες τῷ Πέτρῳ καὶ εἶπαν Ὁ διδάσκαλος ὑμῶν οὐ τελεῖ δίδραχμα;

λέγει Ναί.

 

This section about the temple tax is unique to Matthew.  Jesus and his disciples had come back to Capernaum (Ἐλθόντων δὲ αὐτῶν εἰς Καφαρναοὺμ).  The collectors of the temple tax came to Peter (προσῆλθον οἱ τὰ δίδραχμα λαμβάνοντες τῷ Πέτρῳ).  Once again, this is an indication of Peter’s leadership.  They asked him if his teacher had paid the temple tax (καὶ εἶπαν Ὁ διδάσκαλος ὑμῶν οὐ τελεῖ δίδραχμα).  Peter responded that Jesus did pay the tax with a simple yes answer (λέγει Ναί).  What is this temple tax?  It actually was a half-shekel or “δίδραχμα – didrachma.”  All the Israelite males over the age of 20 had to pay this half-shekel tax to the Jerusalem temple, once a year, sometime in March around Passover time.  In Capernaum, there was no temple, just a synagogue.  However, this might have been a group that was collecting for the temple tax in Jerusalem for those who were not going to go to Jerusalem for the Passover.  The value of a shekel would have been around $5.00 USA, so that each male had to pay about $2.50, not a big deal for a once a year tax.  This incident probably made more sense in Jerusalem itself.

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The Pharisees complain (Mt 9:11-9:11)

“When the Pharisees

Saw this,

They said

To his disciples.

‘Why does your teacher

Eat

With tax collectors

And sinners?’”

 

καὶ ἰδόντες οἱ Φαρισαῖοι ἔλεγον τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ Διὰ τί μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίει ὁ διδάσκαλος ὑμῶν;

 

This story about the Pharisees complaining about this dinner party is similar to Mark, chapter 2:16, and Luke, chapter 5:30, but here it is only the Pharisees speaking out, since there is no mention of scribes here, as in the other two stories.  These Pharisees saw this dinner party (καὶ ἰδόντες οἱ Φαρισαῖοι) from the outside.  Then they asked the disciples of Jesus (ἔλεγον τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ), and not Jesus himself, why was Jesus, their teacher (ὁ διδάσκαλος ὑμῶν), eating with tax collectors and sinners (Διὰ τί μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίει).  The Pharisees were a political party, a social movement, and a religious school of thought that became the basis for later Rabbinic Judaism.  They had they own expert explanations of Jewish law that sometimes appeared to be hypocritical or arrogant, with the letter of the law above its spirit.  They had a form of Judaism that extended beyond the Temple.  The Pharisees in the New Testament, engaged in conflicts with Jesus and his disciples, as here.  However, Paul the Apostle may have been a Pharisee before his conversion.  Maybe Jesus and some of his followers were Pharisees, so that these arguments with the Pharisees may have been internal arguments.  Or is this portrait of the Pharisees in the New Testament a caricature, since the late first century Christians were fighting with the emerging Rabbinic Pharisees?

Yahweh will answer you (Isa 30:19-30:22)

“Yes!

O people in Zion!

Inhabitants of Jerusalem!

You shall weep no more!

He will surely be gracious to you

At the sound of your cry.

When he hears it,

He will answer you.

Even though Yahweh may give you

The bread of adversity

With the water of affliction,

Yet your teacher

Will not hide himself any more.

But your eyes shall see your teacher.

When you turn to the right

Or when you turn to the left,

Your ears shall hear

A word behind you,

Saying.

‘This is the way!

Walk in it!’

Then you will defile

Your silver-covered idols.

Then you will defile

Your gold-plated images.

You will scatter them

Like filthy rags.

You will say to them.

‘Away with you!’”

This seems to be an oracle from the time of the Exile about the future restoration of Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem will weep no more, because Yahweh will be gracious to their cry and answer them. There will be adversity and affliction. However, your teacher will no longer hide himself from you as you will be able to see him. This teacher may have been a prophet. Then as you turn to the right or the left, you will hear his words from behind you telling you the correct way to walk on the straight path. That is when you will defile the silver and golden idols and images that you had. You will scatter them like filthy rages as you will throw them away. Apparently idol worship was prevalent in Jerusalem itself.