“What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” So Jesus asks St. Peter in our reading from Matthew today. And as is often the case with his questions, Jesus isn’t asking because He doesn’t know the answer. He’s asking because he wants to teach us the answer.
Taxes are a way to show authority, a way to indicate to people who is the lord and who is the servant. This is why kings extract taxes from their people, but they don’t tax their sons–because their sons are royal and holy, heirs of their power and authority. So, then, why does Jesus Christ, the Son of God, instruct Peter to go down to the sea, to catch a fish, where he will find both of their taxes? This is Christ’s miraculous way of showing us who He is.
Jesus is the Son of God, He has all the authority of His Father. He doesn’t need to pay the temple tax because the temple is His house. Even more so, He doesn’t need to pay the temple tax because He is the temple. He is God in the flesh, God dwelling with us. Jesus Christ is the Son of God who rules every square inch of the universe. His authority is so far reaching and profound that He can command a random fish in the see to deliver money to St. Peter and the fish will obey, something Caesar could never dream of doing. One word from the mouth of Jesus carries more power than armies and empires.
And yet, Jesus didn’t use that power and authority to tax you, to oppress you, to judge you or condemn you, even though you owed him far more than taxes, even though you owed Him your perfect obedience, your very life and soul. When you were a sinner who refused to give Jesus what you owed Him, Jesus Christ your king didn't use His power to destroy you. He used it to love you, to forgive you, to suffer and die for you. Jesus is the King of Kings who is unlike all other kings. He is the king who came not to build up his own glory by taking from people, but to reveal His glory by giving to His people, by giving them His blood, His life, His victory, and His very name.
Kings don’t pay taxes. They collect them. But Jesus pays the tax in miraculous fashion to show you that He is the King who has paid the debt you owe, the King who has given you the right to be a child of God forever, the King who invites you to live forever in the kingdom of His Father and your Father.