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A coin, a fish and a tax—all surfaced in a conversation between Jesus and Peter. Scribe Matthew relates the event in chapter 17, verses 24-27. Temple tax collectors asked Simon Peter, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”
The temple tax, “atonement for the soul” offering of Exodus 30:15, was to be paid by every Jewish male over 20 years of age. Apparently, Jesus and Peter had not paid, yet. The collected money, used for temple upkeep and services, came due annually.
When the soul-atonement tax-men came collecting, Peter answered for Jesus and said something like, “Of course, Jesus pays his temple tax.” Then Peter trotted off to verify his story with Jesus.
Let me stop here and remind you what happens to Bible readers: scriptures will impact our lives in different ways at different times. Why? Because we are ever-learning-and-changing creatures. At stages in my life, I read the story of the coin, fish, and tax. Each time it impacted me, but in various ways. This time when I read it, I saw the majesty of God in a new light.
Now, let’s get back to Peter’s verifying that Jesus intended to pay his “soul atonement tax.” Before Peter ever uttered one word, Jesus asked, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?” Peter answered, “From others.”
“Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said. Then Jesus said, we'll pay so that “we may not offend them,” and he gave special instructions to Simon Peter, the fisherman:
Go fish. At the lake, throw out your line and the first fish you catch, pry open its mouth and look inside. Inside you’ll find a four drachma coin, the exact amount needed to pay two drachmas each for you and me.
I imagine Peter’s walk to the lake. Some believe the wording indicates he didn’t use any bait. He slings the line out. The cash-fish is swimming somewhere close by and is somehow enticed to swallow the luring line. There’s a tug. The line goes taut, and Peter tugs it in. He can hardly wait, his anticipation had built.
He pries open its mouth, and there near the gills a four drachma coin—just like Jesus had told him. And, possibly the best catch of the day, Peter’s faith must have multiplied.
Freshness swept over me to read in this brief story that Jesus knew Peter’s conversation and thoughts, and also knew that the money-market fish swam in nearby lake waters. Where I worship we sing the song “Majesty,” and this story revealed anew the deity of Jesus.
To me, this is one of those side-step stories. While spectacular, I often wondered why God guided Matthew to include it in the text. Probably for folks like me. For those who need RE-assurance that God knows about all the details of life. Mine. Yours. And even fishes in the deep blue sea.