In reading Matthew 17, Jesus is being challenged regarding a willingness to pay the Temple tax. It is clear from reading different commentaries that this concept of paying the temple tax as a part of the law was disputed among some of the people.
Also, Priests and Levites were exempt from paying this tax. Since Jesus is God’s Son, and the Temple is God’s house (His Father’s house), why should the Son be expected to pay? He was far greater and more intimately related to the Father than the Priests and Levites were. Robert Mounce also points out that:
“Refusal to pay the the tax would indicate a decision to withdraw from the religious community.”Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary — Matthew, p. 171
Jesus, in this case, chooses not to offend — or to give offense — to them. The word offend, in the greek, is skandalizo (look familiar). Jesus, in this action, is not looking to offend, or to cause offense. Even though He has the right to not pay, this option would have caused a problem.
Here we see a difference between what could be done and what should be done. Jesus could have chosen not to pay, but this would have caused a problem. Jesus knew this and chose to pay — even though He has no obligation to do so — in order to not cause a problem (so that consciences would be clear).
In the multiethnic setting, we need to understand that there are times when we might need to do something as to not offend (cause a scandal) because culturally a different action — or lack of action — could cause a crisis of faith. Jesus here is a living example of what Paul taught in 1 Cor. 8, where Paul shares that we need to be careful “that the exercise of (our) rights do not become a stumbling block (1 Cor. 8:9)” to others.
Whether we are trying to reach out to people of different cultures, or just trying to be a good witness to all who are around us, we want to do our best to make sure that in our witness is pure. We don’t want to behave in a way that would have someone look down upon Jesus. We are to be His image bearers! In this passage He shows the need to be aware of how other might perceive our actions then to handle ourselves properly.