“Jesus said to him, ‘What do you think, Simon? When the kings of the world collect taxes or duties, who do they collect from? From their own families, or from outsiders?’
‘From outsiders,’ he replied.
‘Well then,’ said Jesus, ‘that means the families are free. But we don’t want to give them offense, do we? So why don’t you go down to the sea and cast out a hook? The first fish you catch, open its mouth and you’ll find an coin. Take that and give it to them for the two of us.’” -Matthew 17:25-27
With Tax Day not far around the corner, how’s this for an option? Instead of taking the trouble to fill out all of that annoying paperwork, or paying H&R Block to spare you the pain, just go fishing instead. When you catch your first fish, be it the coy in your next-door neighbor’s backyard pond or that ugly grouper on the open seas, look for a coin or two in the fish’s mouth and send that to Uncle Sam.
Weird. Just plain weird. What could Jesus possibly be talking about here?
For starters, it helps to recognize that Jesus has a deadly sense of humor. He can be very good at dropping cynical, outlandish one-liners, and this is very likely one of those moments. Does it mean that Simon is actually meant to go fishing for the temple tax? Probably not- although if Jesus wanted to make this happen, I am sure he could.
What can safely be concluded from this passage is that Jesus is not a fan of the temple tax, which has become just another way to prop up a corrupt religious system, usually on the backs of the poor. Not long from now we will see him in the temple unleashing his anger. He overturns the tables of the money changers, declaring “my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13).
That bumper sticker that reads “Born Free, Taxed to Death”? It’s not too different from the message that Jesus is sending here in his exchange with Simon Peter. Because in Jesus’ time, God’s holy meeting place had turned into the local mall, or worse. Those T.V. evangelists we often see offering healing to the next caller with a working credit card? They were all over the place in the temple, cheaper by the dozen, you might say. And they were sending the message that God’s Love could be purchased for a few extra gold coins.
I suppose this sort of thing makes Jesus of all people especially angry. If he has any idea what is in store for him- and Scripture gives an indication that he does- then he knows the costliness of God’s Love. He is about to demonstrate it on a cross. So Jesus has little time for religious leaders who claim they possess God’s Love by selling it to line their pockets.
Does this righteous anger suggest that Jesus would vote Republican or for politicians who promise lower taxes? Does it imply that he is a card-carrying Tea Party member? Maybe. Maybe not. Chances are that if Jesus were running for office, he would do plenty to infuriate both parties. Chances are that Jesus might not even vote. Who really knows? Because the truth of the matter is that we can’t answer this question from Scripture- and we ought to distrust anybody who claims to know Jesus’ political persuasion (be it Republican, Democrat, Independent, or other) on the basis of Scripture.
What we do know from this passage is that even as Jesus rejects injustice he chooses to pick his battles. Sure, he thinks the temple tax is wrong; but in this case we don’t see him inciting Peter to loud protest. Instead we see Jesus placating his rivals in a bit of a “wink-wink” moment with one of his disciples. His words here signify a coup-d’état of wit, with a view to dying in the ditch (or, in this case on a cross) for his principles later.
Jesus, I suppose, is no soundbyte-fed protester. He is a shrewd strategist with unwavering ideals- the priceless, undomesticated love of God for all human beings being one of them. And he is willing to die for those ideals when the time is right.
If you are still unsure about how to vote, you might try consulting Beliefnet’s “Politic-O-Matic” here: http://www.beliefnet.com/Test/epasch/PoliticOMatic_EricTest.aspx.