Then the Sons Are Free
The Apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to the church at Corinth, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (3:17); to the churches in Galatia, he wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (5:1); and the Apostle Peter warns us in his first letter, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (2:16).
The main idea of this text before us today seems to be freedom. When the “temple tax collectors” (not to be confused with the more dreaded variety, which Matthew himself once was) asked Peter if his teacher paid the tax, Peter answered, “Yes.” I wonder if Peter didn’t think, “Well, of course he does”; after all, this tax went to the support of the temple, which the law required (Exodus 30:11-16). But Jesus seems to give a different answer. He asked Peter from whom kings require taxes – their sons or others? Peter correctly answered, “From others.” Jesus responded, “Then the sons are free.”
The question naturally comes, “Free from what?” There are several answers to this question. In the light of the passages quoted from Peter and Paul above, and given the fact that Jesus was fulfilling the law such that all but the moral law would be set aside (not as a means of salvation but to prove our salvation), we may assume rightly that Jesus was indicating the he himself is the end of the law (Romans 10:4): the temple tax would soon give way to the new temple called his Church. But I think it also speaks to the freedom which we have as regenerated children of God: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin,” but “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” And then come those words of triumph: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36). And this is the freedom which the man or woman of God seeks: freedom from the written code, because we obey the law of Christ, which is freedom from sin, and freedom to produce the fruits of the Spirit, for against such, there is no law (Gal. 5:23).
Jesus tells Peter to go cast a line in the sea, take the first fish he catches, and get the payment for the tax out of its mouth. Paying taxes isn’t a moral issue in and of itself; it’s a matter of practicality (we need fireman, police officers, etc.) and, for Christians, of obedience to the law (Romans 13:1-7). Better yet, we are free to be Christ-like, which makes even paying taxes bearable!