An interpretation of Matthew 17:24ff
"Then the son's are free!"
We are living in a time where a political and social movement is taking place around the issue of privilege.
Certain voices are making it acutely aware of how some people in our society have privilege and how others do not. There is also a call for those who are privileged to give up their privilege for the sake of those who aren't. This call in many ways is delivered in the form of an entitled demand that if this is not done then society will not experience peace.
In this passage we see Jesus dealing with the issue of privilege as well and answers the question of how Christians should approach the whole issue of privilege.
It begins with a discussion about the payment of a tax.
To pay a tax means that one is placed under compulsion by government authorities to take a portion of what you have earned and hand it over to them to use at their discretion. In the ancient world those who were members of the royal house were exempt or free from the obligation to pay the tax. They in effect were privileged because they were sons or daughters of the king. To be obligated or compelled to pay the tax meant that you were outside of the royal family and therefore without privilege. In effect you are not part of the privileged group, you were outside it.
Jesus of course is the King's son and under no compulsion to pay any tax. He is in the position of privilege. He is not an alien or an outsider. Likewise Peter is also exempt from a tax payment and in a position of privilege as well because of his connection to Jesus.
It is interesting and maybe a bit confusing that Jesus describes those who are to pay the tax as outsiders or aliens especially since the tax was a religious one based out of Exodus 30:11-16. It was a tax on Jewish people specifically designed for the upkeep of the temple. How could the Israelites be construed as outsiders? Could it be that the act of paying the tax was symbolic of the low position of privilege for those who were still under the authority of the Old Covenant? In other words, though they were part of God's kingdom, they were nevertheless considered outside of the royal family and therefore considered alienated until Jesus ratified the covenant obligations established by God with Abraham. Much like what Paul indicates in Galatians 4 where he says that those who are still under the law are slaves and not sons or daughters.
Jesus though, exempt from paying the tax, tells Peter that he is going to pay the tax anyway in order not to create a stumbling block, presumably, for those others who are in the same position that He and Peter are in. He is doing this I believe because Jesus is not interested in starting a political movement of tax free advocates demanding their privilege to the local Jewish authorities. Jesus is not interested in challenging the religious system from a political point of view. He is not interested in creating a movement to challenge those who have privilege to give up their position. Rather He is interested in helping those who see themselves as without privilege as having privilege not by demanding those who have privilege to let go of their privilege but by realizing that if they believe in Him they will be connected to His royal household and His Father who provides all the power and privilege anyone needs. And to prove that reality to Peter and to us, He tells Peter to go fishing.