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Scripture Commentary — Matthew 17:24-27

Matthew 17:24-27 — A coin in the mouth of a fish

  • Verse 24
    • “…to Capernaum…” — Peter’s home town (see point 6 under verse 27); located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee; an important fishing area.
    • “…tribute money…” — This was not a Roman tax, but a temple maintenance tax collected annually by the rabbis;  only adult males were taxed; it was also called ‘atonement money’ because it was considered a sacrifice or ransom for personal sin; those exempt from the tax were rabbis, priests, government leaders, and princes.
    • “…came to Peter…” — Why didn’t they go to Jesus? Here are three possible reasons:  1) they respected Jesus as a teacher or preacher and thus considered him exempt from the tax  2) other Jewish leaders had been shamed or embarrassed when they asked Jesus trite questions  3) they were trying to undermine Peter’s loyalty to Jesus by portraying Jesus as disrespectful or arrogant.
    • “…your master…” — Perhaps this was said cynically, intimating that Peter was a slave or servant.
  • Verses 25-26
    • “Yes.” — Peter answered the question “Doth not your master pay tribute?” with a simple “yes”.  Should he or could he have answered differently?  He could have said:  1) Why don’t you ask Him yourselves?  2) I will ask Him and let you know.  How often do we answer for or step in for others inappropriately?
    • “…prevented him [or, spoke to him first]…” — how did Jesus know that Peter had been asked about paying tribute?  Discernment, inspiration!  Jesus always responded to issues with his apostles when they needed teaching or training.  Doctrine and Covenants 121 speaks of “…reproving betimes with sharpness…”, which implies immediacy.
    • “…of their own children…” — There is great irony here.  Jesus was exempt from the tribute for three reasons:  1) the Temple was the house of God and Jesus was the Son of God.  Pay a tax for a house that was already His?  2) an ‘atonement’ tax from Jesus, who would atone for all?  As the only sinless man, He was exempt.  3) as a rabbi or a priest or a teacher, He was exempt.
  • Verse 27
    • “…lest we should offend…” — Jesus was not obligated to pay, but He was careful not to offend or create difficulties for His followers.  Do we ‘dig in our heels’, refuse to compromise, or ‘stand our ground’ unnecessarily?
    • Three miracles in one! — 1) the very fish they caught had a coin in its mouth  2) the fish with the coin bit the hook first  3) the coin was a ‘stater’, or the very amount needed to pay the tax for two people (Jesus and Peter).
    • Why did they not pay with money they already had? — By doing so, Jesus would have admitted that He was subject to the tax.  Instead, He provided the money in a way that no one else could.  Even in the payment, He stood apart.  He was the Son of a King.  He condescended voluntarily.
    • Why a fish?  Why the sea?  Why not find a coin behind a bush? — This was for Peter’s benefit!  How many fish had Peter, a fisherman by trade, pulled out of the Sea of Galilee with a coin in its mouth?  This was a private miracle for Peter alone!  He was the only witness to the miracle.  Though his story could be rejected and mocked later, Peter KNEW what he had witnessed.
    • “…me and thee…” — Not us!  The Savior maintained a distinction between Himself and other men.  Thus, “…my Father and your Father, my God and your God.”
    • Jesus was continually teaching, continually observing.  He was always sensitive, always appropriate, ALWAYS!
  • Lessons to be learned–
    • Use discretion when answering for others.  Let others answer for themselves.
    • Don’t force an issue in anger or pride.  Christ could have said, “How dare you ask this of me!  I am a priest, I am sinless, I am the Atonement.”  Contention accomplishes nothing.  Be humble.
    • Always error on the side of leniency and kindness (…lest we offend…).  Jesus thought of His disciples.
    • Christ lifted as He taught, and taught as He lifted.  He turned a difficult situation into a beautiful teaching moment.  Picture Peter’s face, demeanor, and response as he looked into the fish’s mouth.

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