Jesus said to Peter — “But so that we may not cause offense, 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 17:27 NIV
“[T]oo often Christians think such service must ensure the desired outcome. We simply do not believe that we can risk fishing for a fish with a coin in its mouth.”—Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. Brazos Press, 2006. page 285
I’m working on an assignment for the Bible study I’m facilitating. This week it’s Matthew 17:22-27 that we sidle up to with our close reading, our cheat-sheet of research, and our wide-ranging wonderings.
The other three weeks I’ve made a poem out of my wonderings.
This week I’m instead spinning around within what turns out to be a perennial frustration of mine. I swear, it felt new when I started writing/musing two hours ago! And then I went looking for that @TheNapMinistry quote I ‘just knew’ was right there, and that one post I’d made “just a few years ago”…
Nope. It’s true, what I first started with: I run out of steam a lot more than I’d like to. But perpetual rumination over the gap between my expectations and my bodily/inner rhythms of rest is (a) boring me even before I remembered that I fret about this a lot and (b) not the heart or intent of the assignment.
I’ll try again.
Our passage in Matthew is more about paying the Jerusalem temple tax, and who is the true Ruler for whom this tax is ostensibly collected. And then Jesus tosses in a kicker — the one I opened this post with. Because it caught me right alongside that fish.
There, apropos of nothing in particular… because Jesus is actually chatting-teaching with Simon Peter… and as far as I can tell Jesus is teaching that the temple tax is Beside The Point, so presumably doesn’t need to be paid?…
…there’s a miracle?
That’s not any of the usual sorts of miracle? The ones that bring a person to wholeness, and a community to wholeness? And
who’s the miracle for?
Jesus? Seems unlikely for a whole lot of reasons.
Peter? Mayyyybe? Because the temple tax was two drachma per person, so this abundance would cover the both of them… but again, the goal doesn’t seem to be to care for Peter, either.
Maybe it’s like the wedding at Cana, wild generosity out of nowhere? No, it’s not exactly wild: it’s the precise amount for Jesus and for Peter (the person delivering the tax money).
So, hm. The goal seems to be about “σκανδαλιζωμεν”, skandalizomen, “[we] caused [them] to stumble” or “[we] have offended [them].” The care is for the collectors of the tax-?!
What if this is a miracle of healing, rather than simply providence for Peter (and Jesus)?
What would be healed?
I can see that the temple tax is erased by this providence — the temple systems of sacrifice and tithe are all interwoven into labor. Firstfruits by implication are humans handing over some of what’s arrived in their larders or pockets in acknowledgement of God’s implicit and explicit action on their behalf… but human action and effort is a major component of how firstfruits, and ‘regular’ fruits, arrive. I suppose one could argue that Peter had to take the effort to catch the fish… but then he could just eat the fish. The coin is pure gift, not an expected result from fishing.
So Jesus hands over the amount of the temple tax without paying the temple tax. He demonstrates the point to the disciples without stirring up additional enmity.
Which means Jesus’ point is hidden from the temple-tax-collectors. How would that be healing? They’re still unreflectively participating in the systems that Jesus says are unfruitful.
And Jesus ruffles expectations all the time, so I don’t think keeping feathers smoothed would be a healing.
I left to eat lunch, came back. I still can’t answer my question, still don’t know what’s healed.
When I read this passage, I continue to hear “Christian discipleship entails our trusting that God has given and will continue to give all that we need to be faithful” (Hauerwas, 286). Because my internal spinning is, once again, about my ability to trust God’s provision as I rest, as I ‘do less,’ as I move more slowly than my dreams leap. As one who strives to faithfully follow God, I’ve seen that I generally arrive where I need to be when God needs me to be there.
So I guess this is a two-strand meditation:
I’m reminded (perhaps in a more durable way?) that I fret about my failing God right around the time that God’s cushioning me.
I’m wondering more largely about healing the temple-tax-collectors.
Maybe you’ll help me notice what’s now made more whole-?