One of the tremendous blessings of working at a church like Concordia is the incredibly generous spirit of its members. More than once, a member has offered to help me with something only to refuse to accept payment for their services. Then there have been the meals I have shared with members. After some delicious food and delightful conversation, the check will arrive. And almost immediately, the person across the table from me will snatch it up. And as much as I might protest, my lunch companion will insist that he pay. After some bantering back and forth, he usually wins. Although I have been known to wrestle a check away from a member if they've tried to pay for my meal one too many times!
I have often pondered what moves so many of our beloved members to so much generosity. For I have seen much munificence lavished upon the depressed, the needy, and the bereaved, as well as on many others, by our wonderful members. I believe our text for today from Matthew 17 gives us a clue as to the source of such bigheartedness.
In the first century, every Jewish male between the ages of 20 and 50 was required to pay an annual "two-drachma tax" (verse 24) in support of the temple and its administrative costs. This tax was first levied in Exodus 30:13 as a half-shekel tax, prescribed by God, to support the running of the tabernacle. A half-shekel tax to a two-drachma tax - it seems inflation was a problem even back then.
Jesus seizes on this tax and uses it as an object lesson for his disciples: "'From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes?' Jesus asks. "From their own sons or from others?' 'From others,' Peter answers. 'Then the sons are exempt,' Jesus says to him" (verses 25-26). The sons are exempt from having to pay taxes. Why? Because the king, although he may be willing to levy a tax on his people, has a special affection for his son. And his son's exemption from paying the tax is one of the ways he expresses that affection. Thus, Jesus, as God's Son, is exempt from paying the temple tax. For that tax was originally levied by his heavenly Father. And the Father loves the Son.
Whether it has come in the form of someone helping me and then refusing payment or someone buying me a meal, I have lost count of how many times I have been "exempt" from paying a "tax" on something. Why? Because the person paying for me wanted to express their affection for me as their brother or sister in Christ. And I deeply appreciate it.
So today, in light of all this, I offer you this challenge: Who can you treat as a son or a daughter in the faith, as a brother or a sister in Christ, exempting them from paying a tax on something? In other words, toward whom can you be generous today? Maybe you can treat a friend to lunch. Maybe you can pay for the person in front of you at the drive-thru window. Maybe you can donate some needed items to a family with a newborn. Maybe you can help a friend in need with their utility bills. The options are infinite, but the affect that your generosity can have on another person is singularly unique. So "exempt" someone today from a "tax" and show them how much you love them. After all, your soul has been "exempted" from the "tax" of hell and eternal punishment by Jesus. Why? Because you, indeed we, are his sons and daughters. And so, out of his love, he has exempted us. Now reflect that exemption to others.