More than a Fish Story

Is anyone else feeling tension and stress over all the political fighting that’s going on right now? I hate to turn the news on because it seems all civility has been lost. The following story refreshed me with a reminder that politics is only temporary, and our role is to humble ourselves by honoring others, for the sake of the kingdom.

“After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma 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 taxes—from their own sons or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not offend them, 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.” Matthew 17:24-27

As a former tax collector, Matthew alone records this story in his gospel. It is more than a fish story—it’s a lesson on humility.

Jesus is being asked to pay the temple tax, which was levied on all Jewish males ages 20-50 in support of the temple in Jerusalem. A critical piece of background information: formally ordained rabbis were exempt from this tax. Since Jesus was not formally ordained he was expected to pay the tax.

Jesus had every reason to be offended by this. Not only was he formally ordained by God Himself, he was the Son of the King, the One who owned the temple, making him exempt from this tax.

In humility beyond our comprehension, Jesus told Peter to pay the tax so that we may not offend them.

What can we learn from Jesus’ response?

• Jesus knew that the temple would be destroyed in AD70 and therefore submission to this tax was only temporary. Jesus lay down his rights as the Son of God, knowing that in due time his identity as the true Son would be revealed, making his submission to earthly authority temporary.

• The supernatural means by which Peter was able to pay the tax confirmed to him Jesus’ identity. A day or two earlier at the transfiguration, Peter had heard the audible voice of God announcing, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5) When Jesus gave him these fishing instructions, he listened. Peter might not have been surprised to find a coin in a net full of fish, one of them having swallowed a shiny coin. But what’s the chance that a single fish, on a single hook, would produce the exact amount for both to pay their taxes? Evidence was mounting to confirm to Peter who Jesus was.

• Peter was also obligated to pay this tax, and Jesus made provision for him also.

• For his future life and ministry, Peter would need Jesus’ example of being so secure in who he was, that for the sake of the kingdom, he would be able to live this temporary life in humility and submission to ruling authorities.

Application for us:
As sons and daughters of the King should we be exempt from the demands of our government? One day we will be, but for now the Lord’s instruction comes to us through Peter, who no doubt took this lesson to heart. He writes these words approximately thirty years after that fishing trip.

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” 1 Peter 2:13-17

How do we silence the ignorant talk of foolish men? By humbly submitting, for the sake of the kingdom.

What are your thoughts on this fish story?

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