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§ 191. The Stater in the Fish. (Matt., xvii., 27.)

Christ’s previous visit to Capernaum probably took place at the time set apart for collecting the Temple tribute of half an ounce of silver, i. e., the month Adar, corresponding nearly to our March. It is likely that the great commotion which we have before described as occurring just before his departure had prevented him at that time from paying it. On his return, the collectors came to Peter, who was regarded as the spokesman of the little society, and asked why his Master did not pay the tribute. Christ and his disciples were known to perform all duties arising from the natural relations of life faithfully; but this tribute belonged to the religious constitution, and implied a relation of dependence upon the Theocracy; and, as it became constantly more evident that he claimed to be the Messiah, they perhaps doubted whether he would recognize its obligation. Peter, as we have seen, was at that time full of the idea of Messiah, which he saw realized in Jesus; and he might, therefore, naturally conclude that the latter, as Head of the Theocracy, was not subject to the tribute. But, on the other hand, he had just heard from the lips of Jesus that his kingdom was not to be an outward one, and that he should suffer before his dominion could be seen; and, in this view, he might be subject to the tax. With his usual promptness, he answered the question in the affirmative, without knowing where the tribute was to come from; for, perhaps because as they had just returned from a long journey, they were out of money.528528   This account suits well to the historical connexion in which it occurs, Matt., xvii., 24, but then we cannot take the month Adar strictly. If this last cannot be allowed, we must place the occurrence immediately after the feeding of the 5000; as the multitude then wished to proclaim Jesus as Messiah, the collectors might well doubt of his paying the tax. We cannot think, with Wieseler, that the tax was due to the Empire, for the whole import of the narrative turns upon its being a Temple tax, and not a political one.

Christ decided to pay the tax, and showed Peter that the act formed part of the self-abasement to which, conscious of his own dignity, he submitted himself during his earthly life. He illustrated this by a comparison drawn from human relations. As kings do not tax their own children, so the Messiah, the Son of God and Theocratic King, for whose appearance the whole Temple discipline was but preparatory, was not bound to pay this purely ecclesiastical tax; his relations to the Theocracy were against it. Had the Jews known him for what he was, viz., the Messiah, they would not have asked him to pay it.529529   De Wette’s remarks on the duty of obedience to magistrates, referring to Rom., xiii., 6 are not applicable here; the relation involved in this case was the Theocratic-political relation, which was to be abolished by Christ, with the whole form of that Theocracy. But since they did not, he wished to afford them no occasion, even from their own stand-point, to accuse him as a violator of the law. He places himself on a footing with them, as to the duties devolving upon 291subordinate members of the Theocracy. Nor did he work a miracle to procure the tribute—money, but directed Peter to make use of the means which his trade supplied. In a place where fishing was the common trade of the people, it was not likely that the first fish caught would be worth the whole sum needed; but an unusual blessing of Providence, as Christ well knew, attended the effort. The very first fish caught was to supply the means; a stater, which it had swallowed, was found within it.

By his procedure in this case, Christ taught the Apostles that they were not to claim all their rights, but to submit in all cases where regard to the needs of others required it; and, further, that they might look with confidence for the blessing of God upon the means employed by them to comply with such demands. It is worthy of note that this lesson was given to Peter, in whose name a course of conduct precisely opposed to that which it conveyed was often practiced in after ages.

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