Signs

Temple tax on a fish's mouth

Go to the sea, throw the hook and catch the first fish that comes, open its mouth and you will find a silver coin. Take it and give it to them for you and me.

Gospel - Matthew [17, 24-27]

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" He replied: "Yes".

As he entered the house, Jesus forestalled him by saying: "What do you think, Simon? The kings of this earth from whom do they collect taxes and duties? From their own children or from others?" He replied: "From strangers".

And Jesus: "Therefore the son are exempt. But so that they do not be scandalized, go to the sea, throw the hook and the first fish that comes, take it, open its mouth and you will find a silver coin. Take it and give it to them, for me and for you".

Exegesis - Matthew [17, 24-27]

Paying taxes, especially if destined for the Temple, was an unavoidable and mandatory duty, which could not be fulfilled through a free offer, but with a fixed amount corresponding to half a shekel, that is, translated into Greek currency, to two dracmas, that is a didracma.

This quota was to be paid by every male Israelite aged 20 and over and the collection, exercised by special agents called "tax collectors", began on the fifteenth day of the month of Adar in the Jewish calendar (February-March).

"Doesn't your Master pay temple taxes?" The collectors, fearful of addressing this question directly to Jesus, address it to Peter knowing that he is the head of the disciples. This question for them is certainly a doubt, but also a curiosity: they heard that Jesus chased the merchants from the Temple from the beginning of his preaching and that he always disagreed with the current management of the Temple, based on trading and on the political organization of the priestly caste.

As soon as Peter enters the house where Jesus is at that moment, the latter anticipates him by showing him that he knows of the confrontation he has just had with the tax collectors and saying: "The kings of this earth from whom do they collect taxes and tributes? From their own children or from others". The tax was the indirect tax that was collected on merchandise, while the census was the direct tax that was imposed on people, fields, etc.

"From strangers", Peter promptly replies, that is, from those who do not belong to the king's family; therefore, as Jesus reiterates, children are exempt: He, Son of the Father, should not have had to pay any tribute to the Temple which is the Father's House.

Peter had answered well, because he knew and believed that Jesus was the Son of God, but the collectors and those who had sent them to check do not believe it; so, in order not to scandalize them, Jesus resolves to pay the due to the Father in any case, for the worship professed in the Temple; he does it, however, in an unexpected way: he tells Peter to go to the sea, throw the hook, catch the first fish that bites, open his mouth and extract from there the silver coin sufficient to pay off the debt; the species of fish caught is not specified, but it is supposed to have been the Tilapia later called, in reference to this episode, "St. Peter's Fish".

What is certain, however, is the presence of the coin in the first fish that bites the hook: it is the proof that Jesus commands and arranges everything, demonstrating that nothing is impossible for him, even to meet our needs ... if we have faith and trust in him! Jesus does not work and has no personal economic resources, but through this gesture he offers an important teaching to man: you who need money to manage your life, you who in the economy are looking for security and consistency for your future, remember that money cannot become your main worry, otherwise money will empty you of meaning, it will make you abandon the truth, it will take away your dignity; if you do everything according to the god-money, this will distance you from Jesus and lead you to spiritual death!

Seek first of all the Kingdom of God, try to be honest, put His teachings into practice and do not worry about money: God, in his goodness, will never let you lack what is useful and what you need, because the necessary money can be found "in the mouth of a fish".

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