A weekly Bible reading for Bridge Builders
Reading – Citizenship (Matthew 16:17:14-27)
Jesus, Peter, James and John came down from the mountain where kingdom glory had shined so fully and were met with a scene familiar enough to us even today; a dispute over religion. Mark tells us that a large crowd had gathered and the teachers of the law were arguing with the disciples. A possessed young man had been brought to them to be healed and they had failed to do it; a practical problem that ‘religion’ had failed to solve and an ensuing argument about why. How embarrassing and how all-too-typical!
“If you have faith...” These words of Jesus can, and often do fill us with guilt for being faithless. When things don’t go well for us, prayers are not answered, answers don’t seem to come we look inward and question our faith. Perhaps it would help if we continued to think about the kingdom theme. The problem with this “unbelieving and perverse generation” was not that they didn’t believe in something or another, they were religious enough many of them, but they refused to believe and enter the kingdom that Jesus had demonstrated. They sought kingdom blessing without kingdom living.
Jesus’ disciples, on the other hand, had recognised the King but had yet to fully enter into the kingdom understood fully the significance of the kingdom message. The Jews lacked faith to enter the kingdom while the disciples lacked faith to realise fully the kingdom in their lives.
The kingdom theme continues as Jesus uses another practical situation to illustrate kingdom citizenship. There is a rich irony in Jesus being asked to pay the half shekel that Israel paid as a ransom for the soul (Ex.13-16). Matthew Henry comments:
“This tribute was to be paid as a ransom of the soul, that there might be no plague among them. Hereby they acknowledged that they received their lives from God, that they had forfeited their lives to him, and that they depended upon his power and patience for the continuance of them; and thus they did homage to the God of their lives, and deprecated those plagues which their sins had deserved.”
In response Jesus asked Peter, “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes – from their sons or from others?
A good point! If Israel had a special relationship with God because of having Abraham as their father why were they being taxed? Citizenship in God’s kingdom was by faith and not by works of the law. The implication here is that those who thought the kingdom was theirs were those ‘others’ who paid tax while citizenship belonged to those with faith in the king and who were therefore exempt (Mt.21:43)
The gospel is an offense enough without causing undue offense so Jesus miraculously paid the tax. How often do those of the kingdom major on minors and cause offense that pushes people away rather than winning them into citizenship. Jesus preached the kingdom with passion but did not make trouble for the sake of it. With citizenship comes responsibility to preach the kingdom with passion and take care not to put obstacles in the way of others.