Within the context of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the primacy of the remnants of the Israelites cannot be denied. Jesus calls them the “lost sheep”. Their place is significant to God, for they are even called by God’s name (2 Chronicles 7:14).
The tragedy of it all is that while they are still children of God, Jesus identifies them as strangers (or foreigners) to God. We might use the word estranged.
Gentiles were truly foreigners to God, insofar as God did not choose them to bear the name of God. Due to choices and behaviors, it came to the point that the Jews were such, too.
What’s interesting is the Temple Tax. It was a tax from Exodus 30:11–16. Every man of the age of 20 or over was obliged to pay it annually. It was also called the “atonement” tax. It was used to take care of the tent of meeting (later the Temple). Its spiritual purpose was to remind the Israelites that their lives needed to be atoned for.
What is also interesting is the backdoor way Jesus was asked…using Peter. There is also the assumption that Jesus hadn’t paid it, or that they watched Jesus so closely that they knew he hadn’t yet paid it. Either presupposition leads to interesting conclusions. However, it is Jesus’ response about strangers and sons that should catch our attention.
Some commentators infer that Jesus paid the Temple Tax to fulfill all righteousness (tying language to the baptism of Jesus). Jesus, however, doesn’t seem to have that same understanding. He sounds more condescending (“just to not offend”), though it is more likely a battle that is not worth fighting, and it’s a simple barrier.
Jesus’ response might imply that the tax was out of date. In Exodus, the tax seems tied specifically to the Tent of Meeting. So, once the Tent of Meeting was done with (i.e., the Temple was built), the tax was done with.
This reminds me of the Maple Street Bridge in Spokane, WA. When it was built, there was a toll booth. The promise was that the booth would be removed when the bridge was paid for. It was. In comparison, other public toll bridges that I’m familiar with still have tolls, and those tolls are tossed into the public fund, not the bridge operating fund.
This is not to pick on them, but to show that we have similar examples in our lives. The tolls, no longer needed for their original purpose, are now moved to other “needs”. The same about the Temple Tax perhaps. The implication is pretty strong, though, as this ties into Jesus’ declaration about the Temple Courts being a den of robbers (Matthew 21:13).
Jesus, cleanse us of anything we hold onto as good that has become bad in our lives. Amen.