Here it is, so that you don’t have to go searching for it:
24 When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” 26 When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. 27 However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”
This passage has been used in discussions about religious exemptions to COVID vaccines, and so I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it. The idea is that Christ is teaching that his followers were exempt from the tax. That they didn’t need to feel obligated to pay, but that they could do so as a matter of tactics.
But I don’t buy it. From the footnote in my NASB, and from Calvin’s commentary on these verses, it appears that this particular tax was a temple tax. That is to say, its history can be traced back to Exodus, and it was collected for the maintenance of the temple. Calvin seems to think that foreign rulers would collect the tax themselves - which strikes me as similar to having your tithes and offerings confiscated by a foreign occupying power:
When the kings of Asia appropriated this to themselves, the Romans followed their example. Thus the Jews, as if they had disowned the government of God, paid to profane tyrants the sacred tax required by the Law.
Calvin goes on to say this:
But what is the object of his discourse? Is it to exempt himself and his followers from subjection to the laws? [emphasis added] Some explain it thus, that Christians have a right to be exempted, but that they voluntarily subject themselves to the ordinary government, because otherwise human society cannot be maintained. To me, however, the meaning appears to be more simple; for there was danger lest the disciples might think that Christ had come in vain, because, by paying tribute cut off the hope of deliverance; and therefore he simply affirms that he pays tribute, solely because he voluntarily refrains from exercising his right and power. Hence it is inferred that this takes nothing from his reign.
So far, the main thing Calvin seems to assert here is that this discourse is about Christ himself, and not about his followers. Christ is demonstrating his willing submission to the tyrants around him. Calvin continues:
But why does he not openly claim his right? It is because his kingly power was unknown to the collectors of the tribute. For, though his kingdom be spiritual, still we must maintain, that as he is the only Son of God, he is also the heir of the whole world, so that all things ought to be subject to him, and to acknowledge his authority. The meaning, therefore, is, that God has not appointed kings, and established governments over mankind, in such a manner as to place him who is the Son in the same rank indiscriminately with others, but yet that, of his own accord, he will be a servant along with others, till the glory of his kingdom be displayed.
Skipping down a little, and after a few choice words about the Pope, Calvin says this:
And therefore it is also highly foolish in the Anabaptists to torture these words for overturning political order, since it is more than certain, that Christ does not say any thing about a privilege common to believers, but only draws a comparison from the sons of kings, who, together with their domestics, are exempted.
So, again, it appears to me that this passage is about Christ teaching on His own kingly authority while, at the same time, demonstrating his willingness to voluntarily submit himself to tyrannical and unjust rulers.
What do you think?