Fish Story

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 65; 147:1-11, Ezra 10:1-17, Revelation 21:9-21, Matthew 17:22-27


When Jesus and the disciples stopped in Capernaum, one of the temple tax collectors asked Peter whether Jesus paid the temple tax. Peter said he did, but when he got home Jesus posed the following question before Peter could speak:

“What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?”

This question cut right the heart of who Jesus was. If, as he claimed, he was the son of God, he was no more obligated to pay taxes for the temple than a prince was to pay taxes for the king’s castle. Peter replied “From others” so Jesus continued:

“Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”

The passage establishes Jesus’s identity and authority while promoting the model of servant leadership.

But what’s up with that fish?

Several commentaries refer to this incident as the Miracle of the Coin in the Fish, but there’s no actual miracle recounted. There’s talk of a miracle, but unlike most of the other ones (walking on water, water into wine, multiplication of loaves, curing diseases) it happens off-screen. It’s notable this story appears right after one where Jesus told the disciples their lack of faith was the reason they couldn’t cure a demon-possessed boy.

So did Peter find the fish and the coin or not?

The gospel is silent on the outcome, but Jesus said it was going to happen. Peter, very likely still stinging from having the size of his faith compared unfavorably to a mustard seed, didn’t question it. Apart from a few scholars who think this may have been Jesus making a joke or speaking symbolically, most Christians speak and write about it as if it did.

Before becoming Christ’s disciple, Peter made his coin as a fisherman. Suddenly that mundane act was imparted with meaning beyond the ordinary. That’s a big part of faith: trusting that the Lord can transform the ordinary acts we perform into something greater than we can understand. We don’t always see or know the outcome. It may seem a little weird. It can be physical or metaphysical, literal or symbolic, convoluted or simple … or any and all of these things and more. The seed of faith, without a little mystery mixed in to nurture it, doesn’t grow. Faith is not trusting what we know, but trusting when we know not.

Comfort: Faith doesn’t mean you have to have the answers.

Challenge: Look for Gospel stories about fish and meditate on what they have to say.

Prayer: By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas. (Psalm 65:5)

Discussion: What unanswered questions have you learned to live with?

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