Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful.
When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?”
He said, “Yes.”
And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?”
Peter said to Him, “From strangers.”
Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.” (Matthew 17:22-27)
Going fishing rarely pays the bills. But once, that’s just what Jesus had Peter do. But when he told Peter to go fishing to find the money to pay for the temple tax, he was not giving Peter a universal pattern on how to solve our tax or financial woes.
Does that mean there is no universal principal at work in the passage? Of course not. We learn that when God does tell us to do something, we can be confident that it will work out. And we learn, too, that, like Peter, we are sons of the kingdom. We are not just servants. We are not just citizens of the heavenly kingdom. We are members of its royal family, with all the privileges and blessings that are a part of that.
We also learn that Jesus picked his battles. Sometimes he was happy to offend the religious establishment. But over this tax, he wasn’t willing. How come? Because of the principle of love. The temple tax supported those who worked in the temple: it paid the priests, it paid those who did maintenance, it paid small businessmen who kept the temple supplied with ink and paper and oil. The livelihood and welfare of ordinary people were dependent upon the tax.
Therefore, though Jesus and the disciples were technically exempt, it was better to pay than to not. The needs of others sometimes take precedence over our own.