It was another hot day in Capernaum. Peter was in his front yard working when the tax collectors from the synagogue approached him from the other side of the street. Lifting his eyes, he saw them drawing near and braced himself for the question that was sure to come.
The leader of the group spoke first. “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” he piously asked, his eyes half closed as he looked down the bridge of his nose at Peter.
Peter pursed his lips, took a deep breath, and slowly closed his eyes as he considered his reply. It was frustrating to know the question was more of an inquisition than a true request for information. It was common for his master to be questioned solely for the purpose of trying to trap him in his words.
Peter paused, resisting the urge to take the bait. “Yes, of course,” he finally replied, though he knew in his heart that their financial resources were depleted. Still, it was the manner of his master to do what was required. Of this, Peter was sure. How it would happen, he could not know. Jesus was poor, and by default, as his student, so was he.
The tax collectors smirked, darting looks cast between them on raised eyebrows, and finally turned and shuffled down the dusty road.
Peter watched them walk away and shook his head in frustration. Finally he turned and went into the house. He stood in the open doorway and looked at Jesus sitting in the cool inner room. He was about to tell Jesus what had happened, but before he could even draw a breath to speak, Jesus spoke to him.
“What do you think, Simon?” Jesus asked, “From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?”
Peter wiped the sweat from his brow with his forearm and leaned against the door frame. He smiled realizing that Jesus already knew the conversation he had just had with the temple tax collectors. Living with Jesus as your roommate was a never ending parade of confounding circumstances. “From others,” he replied.
“Then the sons are free,” said Jesus, slowly rising from his seat and looking out the open window toward the Sea of Galilee. “However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel.” Turning to Peter, he continued. “Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
Peter smiled again and nodded, catching the eye of Jesus as he winked. The absurdity of the request made him laugh as he turned to reach for his fishing pole leaning next to the door and set off down the path to the sea.
Apparently, it was time to go fishing.
(Adapted from Matthew 17:24-27, ESV).
When I read Matthew’s account of this story, it makes me laugh. I can only imagine what went through Peter’s mind as he went fishing that afternoon. When he cast the line into the clear blue waters he must have thought, “This does not make any sense.” When he felt the tug on the line and began to pull in his catch, surely he must have been giddy with excitement. And when he finally landed the fish and reached down to remove the hook from its mouth, he must have been flabbergasted to see the flash of the silver coin in the fish’s mouth. Surely he laughed all the way home, tossing the coin from one hand to the other as he walked. And how did it feel to deliver the coin to the mocking tax collector the next day? Ah, that must have been a joy.
We forget sometimes that Jesus knows all things. Jesus knew the conversation Peter had with the temple tax collectors before Peter had an opportunity to share it. Jesus also knew they had no resources to pay the tax. Jesus knew as well that he had power to provide for the need in any way he sought fit. Jesus understood both poverty and power because both were embodied in himself. He knew the beginning and ending of the situation before it even began.
Sometimes as we walk by faith, God provides in the most unusual ways. I suspect he enjoys seeing the delight on the face of his children when he surprises us with miraculous provision. However, as I consider this example with Peter and Jesus, I can’t help but think about the responsibilities of both parties in the solution to the need. Peter had a responsibility, and Jesus, as God, had a responsibility. Both needed to be fulfilled in order to see the provision.
Peter’s responsibility was to fish. God’s responsibility was to put the coin in the fish’s mouth, and to put the fish on the hook on the first cast of Peter’s line. But please note there would have been no provision if Peter had not been obedient to what he was told to do. We cannot expect God to provide what he has promised when we are not willing to do what he asks.
When we live by faith, it is often difficult to understand where the line is between faith and personal responsibility. Perhaps the problem is that we are looking for something that doesn’t exist; there is no line. Faith and personal responsibility are both required. Living by faith does not mean that I can just sit at home and wait for God to provide for me financially. Instead, it may mean getting a second job, or selling things I don’t really need. Sometimes it may mean selling things I think I do need! Often it means a great deal of personal sacrifice. It is presumptuous to say “I live by faith,” but then to expect that I have no responsibilities in the process.
Faith always requires relationship, and then obedience to a divine directive. When God speaks, I move forward in confidence that he will provide for his work. When I join him in what he is already doing, my responsibility is only that of the servant. I merely follow his instructions. The financial supply to do the work of ministry is God’s responsibility. He may lead me to get a job to provide the money to do the work of ministry he wants me to do. He may lead me to sell all that I have to do the work of ministry he wants me to do. Or he may provide the finances in a miraculous way to do the work of ministry he wants me to do. In every case, it is God’s responsibility, not mine. He is the one who decides what he wants me to do. Then, in obedience, I move forward with what he has instructed with confidence that he will supply all that I need to accomplish his will. My responsibility is solely to obey.
My friend, are you living by faith? Then get ready for the ride of your life. It may be that God asks you to go fishing today. Will you do it? Or instead will you claim that you are living by faith and waiting for God to provide? God will always be responsible for his end of the deal. Will you be responsible for yours?
My responsibility is to fish. God’s responsibility is to put the fish on the line and the coin in its mouth.
My friend, go fish.
This article was originally published in the January 2016 Newsletter.