Friday, January 4, 2013

Learning Lessons Again and Again: Matthew 17:22-27

Reactions to the Crucifixion
22 And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men;
23 and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day."  And they were deeply grieved.
The three gospels that record this encounter all shed different light on the disciples' reactions to His statement, so let's read the other two before diving in.
Mark 9:30-32
From there they went out and began to go through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know about it.  For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, "The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later."  But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him.
Luke 9:43-45
And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.  But while everyone was marveling at all that He was doing, He said to His disciples, "Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men."  But they did not understand this statement, and it was concealed from them so that they would not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this statement.
If we had only looked the Matthew account, we could have arrived at the mistaken interpretation that the disciples were grieved because they "got it," because they were sad because they understood that their Teacher would be murdered.  (That's why, whenever you run across a passage in the Gospels and you realize that your interpretation is based on brief wording or limited details, it's important to check if that story is also in other Gospels.)  But this isn't the case at all - they didn't understand.  Rather, they were grieved because they vaguely suspected that He was speaking literally (as opposed to symbolically in parables as He so often did), and they were afraid of what His answer would be if they asked for clarification.
On a personal level, I can relate to the disciples.  There have been times when I've felt that God might want me to do something or that the Holy Spirit was leading me toward a hard-to-stomach doctrine (I mean, think of all the controversial and emotional issues in Scripture revolving around the End Times, predestination, the souls of aborted babies, etc. - there's a lot that's hard to think about!), but I wasn't yet able at that point to ask Him directly for the answer, because I wasn't ready.
In this disciples' case, perhaps they would have been able to handle the crucifixion better when it actually happened if they had been able to accept it sooner, at least in part.  The fact that Jesus told them He would be killed over and over and over again - a way of preparing them for the event (among serving other purposes) - makes me think that likely.  So, when we feel the Holy Spirit is pursuing us about some issue but we aren't yet able to handle it, we should (1) pray for God to continue to prepare our hearts to accept it, and (2) continue to actively think about it to acclimate ourselves to the issue instead of hiding from it.
But there's also the matter of why they didn't understand that complicates the issue: God concealed it from them.  Why?  Well, I don't think it was a matter of hardness of heart like we see in other Biblical cases where God conceals understanding from someone.  Rather, I think He knew they couldn't handle the whole truth yet.  I mean, come on - imagine your best friend, your mentor, and your Messiah (who you thought would throw off Roman government and reestablish Israel for all time right then [as opposed to at the End of the Age, when we know it will take place]) telling you that He would be tortured and executed...that's a lot to take!  So, since they weren't in a place where they could accept it yet, He concealed the whole truth from them, not forcing the entire revelation on them, while allowing the "small bites" to penetrate their spirits and slowly grow into a more developed understanding.  He was protecting them by concealing the whole truth of the matter from them.
Another Case of Rather Be Wronged
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."
Let's start with the minor, tangential point about how Jesus knew what had transpired with Peter before Peter even said a word.  There's not really much to expand on, I just love highlighting it because it's one tiny demonstration of how truly awesome our God is.  I always wonder if Peter was so used to Jesus doing that that it didn't amaze him anymore, of if he was still swept off his feet every time...
Anyway, the tax referred to in this passage wasn't actually one from the Roman government - it was the temple tax.  Its origin can be found in Exodus 30:12-14; think of it sort of like how in Mormonism, tithing isn't optional or self-motivated (as it is in most Christian denominations), it's mandated and regulated to the point of having to turn in tax forms.  So the point is, the tax-collectors in this story worked for the temple - presumably as representatives of God's kingdom.
You see, in this little analogy, the Father is the King and the Son is, well, the Son.  Because it's a tax for God's temple, the Son is legally exempt.  But Jesus chooses to reiterate a point He made back in Matthew 5:38-48:  We should be willing to sacrifice our own interests, should rather be wronged than wrong, in situations where that will bring glory to God and reflect well on Him.  Because the tax-collectors believed that it would be wrong of Him not to pay the temple tax, He paid it to avoid tripping anyone up.
(Note, however, that this should not be extrapolated into "saying" that you should give money to, for examples, charities that you know will misappropriate the funds.  The point is to glorify God by sacrificing your own interests, not giving money to any organization that asks for it.)
The bit about finding the tax money in the fish's mouth is important, too.  It seems like kind of a weird miracle (and we're not given any indication why it was in a fish's mouth of all places - the only connection is that Peter was a fisherman by trade), but the more important point of the matter is that God provides.  Since Jesus was paying the tax, Peter had to, too - and notice that, in travelling to the water and going fishing, he still had to work, still had to sacrifice something.  But, God helped him.  Whenever God asks us to do something we absolutely, positively cannot do, He will provide a way to accomplish it.
Questions for You
When in your life have you been afraid of the answer God might give?
What little instances (like paying the temple tax above) have been in your life where you've had to sacrifice something to reflect well on God?
Any insights you'd like to add to our study?  Or questions you'd like to ask - either something I wasn't clear about, or a detail I didn't cover, or a tangential topic branching off of today's study?
Giving Credit Where It's Due
Image Number One: The Exhortation to the Apostles, by James Tissot.  Wikipedia.  Public domain in the United States.
Image Number Two: Giant Grouper, by Diliff (edited by Fir0002).  Wikipedia.  Used by permission.

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