Meet Peter and the Fishes Mouth

When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes,” he said.

When he went into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes? From their sons or from strangers?”

26 “From strangers,” he said.

“Then the sons are free,” Jesus told him. 27 “But, so we won’t offend them, go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and take the first fish that you catch. When you open its mouth you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for me and you.”

Matthew 17:24-27, CSB

Taxes! We had just arrived home in Capernaum when the tax collectors showed up. How they knew we were back in town I have no idea. But they did. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. These guys have a tendency to show up when you’re broke.

Taxes. They knew that Jesus was a teacher, a rabbi, and they had the audacity to ask if he was somehow exempt from paying to support the Temple. I had to tell them that He to had to pay, but honestly, I wasn’t sure.

I went back into the house and Jesus was waiting to quiz me.

He surprised me by knowing what had just occurred with my encounter with these tax guys. He knew. He asked me what I thought–(Jesus always seemed to ask me questions like that. I hated being put on the spot.)

“From strangers” seemed to be the simple and logical answer. Jesus explained that He’s not liable to pay this tax, because the Father certainly doesn’t require it of His own Son. I realized then that was the real lesson that He wanted me to understand.

But rather than insist on His “sonship,” Jesus didn’t want to create an issue with anyone. He asked me (the commercial fisherman), to throw out a line and a hook–He told me that the first fish that I caught would have a coin in its mouth!

I must tell you that it happened exactly like He said it would.

The fish I caught had a drachma in its mouth. What can I say? It was there and it undid me. It happened and I understood again that He really did have power.

Jesus told me to pay the tax–His and mine. He knew He didn’t need to pay. Rabbis were exempt from this, and yet Jesus didn’t want to offend anyone, He paid the tax to avoid any objection.

_______________________

Bryan’s note: I’ve pondered this miracle of Jesus, and it astounds me. A fish with a coin in its mouth! But in this, He shows His power. Consider for a moment the story of Jonah where a big fish was specially created to be the vehicle for a disobedient prophet. Jesus reveals His omnipotence over all things.

Jesus is the Creator and He does this without any problem at all. He simply does it. He is God after all.

“All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.”

John 1:3, CSB

Meet the Pharisee. Meet the Tax Collector

Luke 18:10-14

 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, and the other a cheating tax collector. 11 The proud Pharisee ‘prayed’ this prayer: ‘Thank God, I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t commit adultery, 12 I go without food twice a week, and I give to God a tenth of everything I earn.’

13 “But the corrupt tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed, but beat upon his chest in sorrow, exclaiming, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home forgiven! For the proud shall be humbled, but the humble shall be honored.”

The Pharisee:

I had it all together. I had shaped myself to be the ultimate Pharisee–the Pharisees of the Pharisees. I understood the Law; I could quote whole books, forward and backward. I fasted twice a week, tithed everything, right down to my herbs and spices. I had it all together.

I made sure everyone saw my commitment.

I strenuously kept God’s Law. I was consumed by understanding it, I tried to grasp all its nuances and complexity. The 10 commandments were emblazoned on all that I did. I wanted everyone to know that I was one of “the pure ones,” for that was the meaning behind the word Pharisee. I knew that I was pure.

I went to the Temple every day to pray, I stood holy and set apart, standing before a real and holy God. I was always the truest example to the people of Israel. I always stood when I prayed, for I was completely committed to doing all that the Law demanded of me.

One day I saw a wicked man in God’s holy temple. I had to thank God that we were total opposites. He was a tax collector and an evil person. I really was nothing like him. I rejoiced that I had become a true example of a righteous man.

I knew I was righteous, and certainly not at all like that sinful tax collector.

———————-

The Tax Collector:

I didn’t have it all together. I understood this and was horrified that I had become so evil. I came to the Temple, driven by my guilt and shame–no one had to tell me this, for I knew my sin and I was deeply ashamed.

Why I came, I don’t know. I honestly didn’t belong here, and I kept a distance from the front. I guess that’s where I belonged. On the fringes before the Holy One. It seemed now that I was drawn to this place, and I’m still not sure why I came that day.

I knew that I breathed evil and had become evil.

I fell to my knees, and I begged God to forgive me. I saw the Pharisee standing in the presence of God, but I knew I wasn’t at all like him. He was righteous and I knew I was not. Oh, how I wanted God to forgive me for all the sins I had committed.

I must tell you that my spirit was in agony.

“Humble men are very fortunate!” he told them, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them. Those who mourn are fortunate! for they shall be comforted. The meek and lowly are fortunate! for the whole wide world belongs to them.

Matthew 5:3-5, LB

Jesus clearly told us who was truly forgiven that day. When we think we have it all together, we’re deceiving ourselves.

Let’s not pretend otherwise, okay.

Art: Eugene Burnand, 1850-1924, litho; Scripture used here is from the Living Bible.

Meet Matthew, (also known as Levi)

Mark 2:13-14

“Then Jesus went out to the seashore again and preached to the crowds that gathered around him. 14 As he was walking up the beach he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at his tax collection booth. “Come with me,” Jesus told him. “Come be my disciple.”

“And Levi jumped to his feet and went along.”

My name is Levi, and I once collected taxes for Rome. It was a good living–it’s funny, but my parents chose my name– “Gift of God.” They were pious Jews who dreamed I would be more than I was. I sometimes wonder. Did they understand what Jesus was calling me to become?

As a tax collector, I was considered unclean. A small step above a leper I guess. The Temple was off-limits for me; I never had any sacrifice for my many sins. I carried my guilt like a heavy jacket on a hot day–some would say that God turned his back on me. I was seen as a collaborator, a betrayer of my people.

Do you know what it’s like to be damned?

My friends were sinners like me. In some dark way, we understood each other, we were all outcasts. Some of us were drunkards and whores, others were thieves and scoundrels, all of us were undesirable. They say that misery loves company–and we all were very much lost.

My tax booth was situated at a crossroads, it was ideal for collecting taxes. No one carrying goods could come by without paying me. Over time I became wealthy, and that was very good, for me anyway. But, I must admit at times that it was very hard. I wondered if that was all my life was good for, collecting coins for Rome.

Jesus was teaching near my booth, I listened to Him, and that was a good thing. But when He passed by me my mind and heart finally came together. I both felt and knew that there had never ever been someone like Him. I prided myself as a good judge of character–my business taught me that. But I realized exactly who He was.

He stopped right in front of my booth.

Jesus looked hard at me. I felt His eyes searching and I realized that He seemed to look right through me. I guess He knew exactly who and what I was all about, and it unnerved me, but in a good way. I wasn’t seeing Him, rather it was He that saw me.

Jesus’ words were a lightning bolt. “Come, follow me.” And suddenly all I attained in my business was a pile of nothingness. I can never get over the shock of those words– Jesus, the Messiah wanted me. What those words meant was non-negotiable. He had put His call on me, someone who was very much lost.

What could I say–what could I do?

To follow was not optional. I saw the silver and gold and realized they meant nothing. I left the coins on the table and I started to live a life that really mattered. I have never doubted or questioned that moment. What could I do, but follow Him?

We had a going-away party that night and I invited all my “disreputable” friends. Jesus shared many wonderful things with us. We had never had anyone who really cared for us like Him. We had never experienced this before.

The Pharisees were incensed. They began to rebuke Jesus for setting down to eat and fellowship with us. In their minds my home was unclean–we were all unclean. But that was not the way of Jesus. He loved us when nobody else would.

“When Jesus heard what they were saying, he told them, “Sick people need the doctor, not healthy ones! I haven’t come to tell good people to repent, but the bad ones.”

Mark 2:17

Art: Wautier, Carel; The Calling of Saint Matthew,” c. 1650