Would that acquiring our funds for paying taxes were simply a matter of taking an afternoon off and going fishing. Wouldn’t that be nice! I think today’s gospel is one of those accounts which people hear, give the holy nod (Jesus did it, I believe, I don’t exactly get it, but God’s ways are above mine…) and move on. My experience is that people most often recall the “coin in the mouth of the fish” but are less clear about the discussion that preceded Jesus’ instructions to Peter. One should note that the Gospel never records the catch or the payment. Don’t get me wrong, if God can create the universe I have no doubt that placing a coin in a fish’s mouth is possible….but… Just a few verses before Jesus tells the disciples that their faith can move mountains. Was that hyperbole or was there an expectation that mountains could be moved? Is the expectation that the coin would be found in the mouth of the fish?
I wonder if the comment is along this line of thought. “Ok, Peter…if you had been paying attention you should have already noted my somewhat radical attitude towards the Temple and the authorities who operate it as business. You’ve seen the Jerusalem authorities lurking around and trying to build their case against me. The local officials, who come to collect the tax, have probably already heard and are suspicious that I don’t intend to pay. You just heard my third prediction of my coming death at their hands. And yet to presume to bind me to their Temple tax? Really?”
I wonder if Peter picked up the implication of the dialogue about who owes taxes, son or foreigner? At one level the comment can be taken as the “sons of Israel” should not be subject to the tax, but that the tradition be followed so that no offence be given, pay the tax. But another understanding is that Peter has just witnessed the Transfiguration, the Temple is the House of God, Jesus is the Son of God, and so He definitely should not be even asked to pay the tax.
I wonder if we pick up on the central revelation of Jesus as the true Son of God.
Perhaps the story ends with Jesus rolling his eyes at Peter. With instructions that say, in effect, you committed to pay the tax, but let me tell you the importance of the tradition in light of the coming of the Kingdom of God – if you can find a coin in a fish’s mouth, by all means, pay the tax.
Or perhaps the story ends with a miracle.
Either way at the center of the story is not a fish, a debate about taxation, but the Son of God – He deserves all the attention.
Note: The Temple tax found its basis in Exod 30:11–16, a payment of half a shekel by every adult male for the upkeep and maintenance of the Jerusalem Temple. Away from Jerusalem the tax was collected at the local synagogue the month before Passover. The payment was equal to two days wages. The coin that would have been recovered from the fish’s mouth would pay the tax of two people. But there was Jesus, Peter, and 11 other disciples. This is a large amount for a band of traveling evangelists dependent on the kindness of strangers.