“Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.” (Matthew 17:27 KJV)
Jesus is asked about tribute or taxes in another story where he gives the famous quote, “And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.” (Luke 20:25 KJV). This is similar in Mark 12:17. Jesus takes a different approach here. And well He might. The previous questions where questions of theory. They were meant to entrap Jesus so that His words may be used against Him. Here the actual tax collectors show up. Also this was not a tax for Caesar. It was a temple tax. This gives context to the question that Jesus asks Peter as to if the sons are free or not.
Why would it be important, in the context of the temple (also note not the synagogue), to distinguish between sons and strangers? Something beyond just getting by another tax. Who pays the right of that passage from stranger to son? Who makes that adoption process possible? Jesus was just telling the disciples while still out in the region of Galilee before they entered the town of Capernaum that He was going to die and be raised again. Jesus was foretelling them, albeit through their cloudy understanding, that He was going to pay for that right of passage.
I am curious about something. I wonder how well versed these that collected this temple tax or His disciples where in the Greek mythology of the day? Perhaps it may be even appropriate to ask how well versed the others that would hear of this story later (some even Greeks) were in the current thought of the day? I ask this as there is a Greek mythological character called Charon. Charon had a job similar to a ferryman who got the souls of the dead across one of the rivers that divided the living world from the dead. To pay for this passage, a coin would be placed in the mouth of the dead. The coin’s value was significantly less than the value of the coin found in the first fish. Depending on whether the coin for the dead was a Obol or a Danake, the Shekel found in the fishes mouth would be between eight and twenty four times the value. (Talk about a tax hike, but then again the Shekel facilitated the tax for two.)
Notwithstanding, beyond what Jesus taught His disciples in this miracle of His divine knowledge of where the coin was. Beyond the example of His ability to provide, the right amount, at the right time, and to the right people. Beyond the lesson in moderation in that the coin filled the exact need. Beyond the reminder to trust Jesus in every possible (and otherwise impossible) circumstance. Even beyond finding a way to not offend those who where simply asking a question because they legitimately thought they were filling an ordinance for the temple. Jesus plants a seed from a real tax that was paid in a particular town and reaches into the minds of those who are hung up on the mythological thought of the day to underscore a lesson that He was fervently attempting to teach His disciples. That He not only pays for the right of passage, but unlike Charon who gets you from the shores of the living to the dead; Jesus gets you from the shores of the dead to the living.
“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26 KJV)