There were just the two of them, sitting together, so Matthew’s Gospel tells us. The sun was shining, the water was cool to the touch. The leader and the follower. He didn’t mind being the follower, not that he was brilliant at following. But he was learning and the leader, well, he was a bit special.
And then it happened. It was too good to last. Some bossy busybodies pushed into their space and demanded money. Quite a lot actually, about 2 days’ wages. They were tax collectors and the money was to pay the annual Temple Tax that all Jewish men over 20 were supposed to pay.
By the way, the leader was Jesus, the follower was Peter.
Well, there could have been a problem because neither of them appeared to have any money. Interestingly, not everyone thought that the temple tax was legitimate including, especially, the Pharisees. And anyway, the Temple had a lot of financial reserves. In fact, a few years later, they discussed what to do with the surplus of taxes that they had collected.
On previous occasions, Jesus had upset people by making His own decisions often against the prevailing beliefs of the people. He forgave sins without people first saying sorry; He decided if, and when, it was appropriate to fast; He ate with the worst of people; He broke Sabbath laws by healing on the Sabbath; He touched the unclean: I could go on. But here, even though many would have congratulated Him if He had refused, He decided to pay the tax, even though His Father owned the Temple.
I wonder why? It appears that neither He nor Peter had any money. But He knew where they could get some.
Jesus then does something very interesting. He tells Peter to go fishing. Now, Peter could catch fish. He may have thought that Jesus wanted him to catch a fish so that he could sell it, make some money and pay the tax. It would have been a good plan but it wasn’t Jesus’ plan.
Jesus has a different motivation and it’s for the benefit of Peter. In order to pay the tax, Jesus asks Peter to help Him. Did Jesus need Peter’s help? Of course not. Some verses earlier, Matthew records Jesus easily casting out a demon and just before that, Jesus is transfigured on the mountain and God announces, “This is my beloved son”. Jesus was God and could have easily created a coin out of nothing and flicked it to the tax collectors.
But He is more interested in His follower than the tax collectors or the crowds. Jesus wants Peter to know that He, the creator of the universe, wants him to participate in His miracle. He asks him to do something that he knows that he can do – catch a fish. It’s at that point that the miracle occurs because when Peter catches a fish, there’s a shekel in it.
So, who achieved the miracle? Well, Jesus knew that the fish would have the shekel but it was Peter who caught it. The fish wasn’t waiting on the beach for him; it didn’t jump out of the water on to his lap. No, Peter used his skills and caught the fish. Jesus and Peter did the miracle together.
The message? Jesus wanted Peter to know that if he obeyed Him, when He asked him to catch a fish, they would share His mission together.
The message for us? God has given us gifts, skills and abilities for a purpose. So that, together, we can achieve what He wants to do, what He could do easily on his own. He views us as partners. Junior partners, if you prefer, but nevertheless, people who are honoured by God to participate with Him in His mission.
It sounds too good to be true. But it is true. Thank you, Matthew, for choosing to include this story for our benefit.
If you value exploring the Bible and discovering truth and God in it, in ways that are enjoyable and applicable, you may like to check out www.wordandspirit.info for books and Bible study resources.
Dr. Keith Warrington