“…lest we offend them…”

New Living Translation
“However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”

Young’s Literal Translation
“but, that we may not cause them to stumble, having gone to the sea, cast a hook, and the fish that hath come up first take thou up, and having opened its mouth, thou shalt find a stater, that having taken, give to them for me and thee.”

(Matthew 17:27)

It can be said that the temple of Jerusalem represents the corrupt system in which the leaders used religious clout and political power to oppress the people. In a sense, to pay taxes to the temple would be equivalent to supporting the very system that is oppressive.

However, in this case, Jesus may have made an exception to pay taxes for the reason to not “offend” (or “stumble”, in the YLT) the tax collectors. Did Jesus want to support the system that oppresses the people? No, I don’t think so because Jesus has shown himself to be a revolutionary activist who stood up on behalf of the weak, the poor, the marginalised, the outcasts and the downtrodden. Why did he choose to pay taxes then? I suppose he had his reasons. Maybe he understood that the issues in life are not black and white; they are usually grey.

Dualistic thinking causes us to define everything in terms of right or wrong, good or bad, and so on. But I realise that life is more complex than that. We are all interconnected, and we are all interdependent in the ecosystem of life.

However corrupt a system is, we cannot completely divest ourselves from the influences of the system in which our lives have been so interwoven that it is impossible to say at what point we can be completely independent of its workings or be free from benefiting in any way from being in the system. In order to survive, we need to eat and drink and make a living somehow, and we have to make do with whatever we can find to get by in an imperfect system. Does that mean we have to sell our soul to survive in such a system? No, I believe we can choose to be in the system but not of the system, or in Jesus’ words, “in the world but not of the world”.

For example, I am living in a country where the system leans towards materialism and capitalism, where the majority race is favoured over the minority races, and where freedom of speech and divergent thinking and dissenting voices that challenge the status quo of the powerful and privileged are not expressively encouraged or supported.

How do I choose to be in this system and not of this system without intending to be complicit in its oppression of the less privileged?

How can WE choose to live in such a way that we acknowledge that we may in some ways or other still benefit from an imperfect system (if we are honest) while actively choose to challenge the discriminatory nature of the system in our endeavours to deal with systemic racism, economic oppression and political repression?

Do I still pay taxes? Do I still vote? Do I still contribute to the wage slavery system by working in this country? Do I still contribute to the economy by buying things to meet my needs in this country? Or shall I continue to do these things while simultaneously seeking to subvert the system in a peaceful and non-violent rebellion?

I don’t really have a clear answer at this point, but I do believe that Jesus’ words “lest we offend them” may provide a clue as to how I can find a balance between the two extremes by being “wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove” in the face of adversity, so that ultimately, Love wins when people are TRANSFORMED from the inside out through grace and truth.

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