St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Collect: Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” And they were greatly distressed.
When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes, he does.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?” When Peter said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”
What an odd story. Who owes what to whom? A great question we all still struggle to answer.
All good Israelites and Levites would have had to pay the Temple Tax of half a shekel. It was for the upkeep of the beautiful facility. But it got me thinking, how much of what we do is because of someone else’s expectations. Expectations, not needs.
I had a friend who went to orientation to begin a seminary degree. Her dad was a minister, and she applied, was accepted, and began the yearly rite of first year orientation. Sitting there, on day one, she noticed she was not listening to a word that was being said. She was zoned out, with the thought running through her head, “What are you doing here?” She stopped and asked herself about that question. Is that what she is really feeling? And after she did some real soul searching, she saw finally that she had applied, and was accepted all to make her father happy. She felt the call, but not the call from God. At the next break, she got up and left.
So much of our behavior, especially early in life, comes from those external expectations. Don’t do this, don’t do that, I don’t want to make _________ [fill-in-the-blank] unhappy. Living up to expectations can be good or can be bad.
One of the big lessons in maturing is letting go of those expectations so we can live our own life, but Jesus lived up to expectations. Here he pays the Temple Tax, despite openly declaring he did not owe it…
“What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?” Obviously, “From others.”
The kids do not pay the king tribute. The subjects and vassals owe the tribute. The kids are free. But notice, after boldly declaring that he owed nothing to nobody, just instructs Peter how to pay the tax. (I am not getting into the whole coin in the fish’s mouth thing because I cannot explain it. Let’s just take it at face value. Okay?)
Jesus lives up to people’s expectations. He does it in other places, too. When Mary urges him to “do something” at the wedding in Cana, and he turns water to wine, he was living up to mom’s expectations. When he tells the disciples to have some swords at Gethsemane so when they are accused of being “transgressors” they can be found guilty. He got two by the way. Jesus is shown again and again to consider others’ expectations, for good or bad. Often doing so takes a price of us. And we have to determine if it is worth it or not.
I think one reason, or at least I read it this way, that Jesus is so ridiculous in where he gets his tax (out of the mouth of a fish). His owing for the upkeep of the Temple when the priests do not owe is as ridiculous, for those in the know anyway. But he understands that in his role as a human and a member of a people, part of being in those roles is fulfilling expectations. I had an old boss talk about “having to pay the bills.” It was not the tasks we wanted to do, but it was what we had to do to do the fun/enjoyable/rewarding stuff.
Living up to other people’s expectations can be a chore. It can also be a way of saying “I love you.” You do it not because you need to, but because the other person/group feels the need for it. We do the thing out of love, out of relationship, out of the desire to maintain and help us both to grow in love together. Not out of obligation, not out of duty, but out of love. Amen