We live in a culture that tells us that we had better seize our rights or we will get trampled. We are bombarded with messages that tell us stand up and seize what is yours. Meek is weak.
Several weeks ago, when track and field runner stopped to help a fallen competitor finish the race (video) people's views were divided. Many people felt like she did the decent human thing. But there were some that felt like she had done the wrong thing because she didn't seize the obvious advantage. Some felt it should have been survival of the fittest.
There are times in life when the advantage and triumph is ours to seize. There are times when we have the right to something. But do you ever consider giving up our rights for the sake of others? Do you ever consider setting aside a position or advantage that is rightfully yours so that others might be served?
It is interesting that when it came to paying his own temple tax Jesus had this approach.
In Matthew, Jesus tells us that because he is the Son, he is exempt from paying the temple tax.
Matthew 17:25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?”
The obvious answer is that taxes are not collect from sons of the king but from strangers.
So Jesus, who is greater than the temple and who is the Son of the King (i.e. God) is completely exempt from the temple tax. It is his right not to submit to the temple tax. It does not bind him in any way.
Yet Jesus sets aside his right and pays the tax.
Matthew 17:27 “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”
What?! How many times does Jesus show a willingness to offend the religious Pharisees of the day? He often confronts them. He rebukes them. He even provokes them because he speaks plain and simply truths. Jesus is more than a mere revolutionary or shock-jock looking to offend just because he can. For those who like Jesus as a contrarian and revel in the power of the his confrontations as he 'sticks-it-to-the-man' we should ponder his humility here. Ponder how and why he avoids offense.
Jesus shows us that he does not go about provoking people for provocations sake. He did not revel in offending just to 'put people in their place.' His focus is the coming cross. So he avoids provocation and offense here. This is not his time and this is not his battle. We could all learn from this.
Consider: the Son was fully in his right to refuse to pay the tax to the temple. Yet whose interests is he thinking of here? What kind of meekness is he showing? There is a divine wisdom here in not provoking, even though if they got upset with him for their lack of knowing him as the Son it would have been their fault.
JESUS FORGOES HIS RIGHT! How unlike human nature. We assume that if we have a right we must exercise it--and if we do not we are weak. But that is precisely the humility and meekness Jesus shows.
This passage is not really about our duty to pay taxes. Paying taxes really is our duty. We submit to the state because God put the state in authority (Rom. 13)--we don’t get an exemption. This passage is about someone (Jesus) who has an exemption--but sets it aside.
1. Next time you are fully within your rights to gain something, take advantage of something or be exempt from something--will you consider foregoing your rights for others?
2. How can we follow Jesus example by living at peace with people and avoiding unnecessarily offending?
3. Is there some area of your life God is calling you to forego a right you have in order to serve others for the sake of the gospel.
The best way to diagnose the area you need to deal with is ask yourself what is the area or situation in life that you are saying, “I don’t need this stress.” “I am tired of putting up with _____.” “It’s not worth it.” “I don’t know why I bother.” --you feel like you’ve put yourself out there, sacrificed for the cause, made the effort, but you’ve been disrespected, rebuffed or treated unfairly.
Maybe its at a job, in a relationship or friendship, maybe it is with your church, or maybe you are at a stage of life where you figured you are "owed" a little bit of rest--like retirement. Maybe you really have been wronged or put under undo pressure. You have a right for relief or a right not to 'pay the dues' in a particular area. But is God calling you to this precisely because it will involve self-sacrifice on your part. Did you ever consider: does God want to make me more Christlike in character by my staying in the situation?
The only reason Jesus pays the temple tax is so people would not get offended. Sometimes the only reason we have in forgoing our rights is to avoid offending someone. Sometimes we sacrifice because we are seeking peace at all costs. Sometimes we are seeking to adorn God and the gospel rather than exercise our own rights.