Going fishing

masaccio12A colleague who led our office devotions this week shared from Matthew 17.24-27:

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”
“Yes, he does,” he replied.
When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”
“From others,” Peter answered.
“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

The substance of this thought was as follows.

● Jesus’ question to Peter concerns “duties” and “taxes” (basically two forms of tax – income and temple).
● By “sons” or “children” of the kings of the earth is meant, literally, the physical offspring of those kings, that is, their own children. Earthly kings do not levy taxes on themselves or their own children. The Royal Family doesn’t pay.
● This exemption parallels the truth about Christ as God’s son. He is the Son par excellence, by nature the creator and sustainer of the universe, the source and giver of its life, resources, blessings, and “every good and perfect gift.” By definition, then, he can be subject to none of the world’s civil or political burden. Christ is – like any son of any king who levies taxes on others but not on his own children – truly exempt from the taxes about which he is asked.
● Jesus includes Peter and, by extension, all the disciples, including those who follow Christ as God’s true children. We are quite literally not subject to the civil and political burden of sustaining the ‘kingdoms’ of this world. This is part of what it means to “not be of this world.” Thus we are subject to none of the burdens placed on the shoulders of people by any worldly attempt to establish and sustain a political or civil identity outside those realized in and as the truth of God’s loving and gracious kingdom.
● Nevertheless, in order not to offend those who don’t perceive the truth of filial relationship to God in Christ, Jesus agrees to accommodate the world in its less-than-perfect systems of self-governance.
● It is when we decide in love to accommodate the world in this way that we see the miraculous provision of grace. Had Jesus insisted on not paying the tax on the basis of his inherent identity, the miracle of provision Peter shares in would not have occurred. What we call the ‘miraculous’ is grace providing for love wherever it decides to accommodate a fallen world in incarnational ways.
● Oh yeah. Somehow Peter fishes his taxes out of a fish’s mouth. Yeah.

What d’ya think?

6 comments on “Going fishing

  1. rwwilson147 says:

    Altogether perceptive, spot on, interpretive exegsis! I love it.
    I think that Jesus’ argument undermines that of war tax resisters because his willingness to pay the Temple tax is a rejection of the idea that it is a sin to pay taxes that fund unjust political systems of dominance and/or oppression and violence (the kingdoms of this world). Jesus paid into the system that arrested and sent him to be crucified though he was without sin. Jesus’ argument for rendering unto Caesar is parallel to this but is an implicit command to pay taxes that support governing powers that are not a part of the kingdom of God but are actually considered tools of the kingdom of Satan.
    Beyond these practical theological concerns the providential foresight and management of the created order in providing the four-drachma coin is astonishing, just as are all the other witnessing miracles enacted by Christ.


  2. I wonder if the reason for the miracle is so that offence is not caused to those who can’t see yet and to strengthen those who are beginning to.
    Blessings, Tom.

    Liked by 1 person

    • … But I think that the major point of the episode is what it reveals about how God relates to us.
      But that’s the beauty of parables-they are material for us to build on as well as just a single defined interpretation.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tom, that hint of a smile in your colleague’s final bullet-point tells me I may not be the only Christian who thinks this “fish story” miracle is a little hard to believe in every detail.

    I do believe we have a true account here of Jesus’ words in response to the question about taxes – and of his sending Peter to procure the needed money by fishing. One ‘line’ (of nets) in a good morning’s work (a single ‘catch’) might have yielded enough fish to cover the temple tax. So it seems a little ‘fishy’ that the story comes down to us featuring an astonishing miracle of foreknowledge – Jesus predicts that Peter will find the needed coin in the mouth of the first fish he catches.

    Nevertheless I do follow Jesus in his implied negative (though accommodating) attitude toward the temple tax, but I’m not sure we can include a criticism of civil taxes in the same breath here.
    I also like this: “What we call the ‘miraculous’ is grace providing for love wherever it decides to accommodate a fallen world in incarnational ways” (yours or your colleague’s words?). But I don’t quite see the divine wisdom of this alleged miracle of provision, nor its spiritual connection with Jesus’ stated motive of “not causing offense.”

    Personally, I think special grace seems inappropriate here, where provision might occur just as well in the more natural context of hard work, as in God’s care of the sparrows, etc. (I’m sure Jesus was quite aware that the birds work their little tails off to acquire all their ‘free’ provisions).

    An editorial note: typo on the scripture ref: it’s Mt 17:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      John: I also like this: “What we call the ‘miraculous’ is grace providing for love wherever it decides to accommodate a fallen world in incarnational ways” (yours or your colleague’s words?)

      Tom: Mine. ;o)

      I hear ya on the miraculous coin. It has a certain rhetorical unexpectedness.

      Liked by 1 person

      • What is not unexpected is that a story about ‘the fish with a sheckel in its mouth’ might have circulated around the dockyards of Capernaum (and every other Jewish fishing spot) for many generations BEFORE the birth of Christ. My faith doesn’t live or die over the question of whether Jesus made it finally come true.

        Liked by 1 person

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