The Coin from the Fish's Mouth - Otto Elliger

The Miracle of the Coin in the Fish's mouth

The miracle of the temple tax in the fish's mouth competes for the oddest miracle award in the New Testament. Understandably, Jesus, our savior, would miraculously feed the hungry, heal the sick, cast out demons, and calm the storms. But paying our taxes or church tithes? Now, that's a savior many of us would actually want to meet. But don't get too excited, this miracle has very little to do with taxes and has everything to do with sacrifice.

Cause Temple Tax in the Fish
Material: Fish
Formal: Payment of the temple tax
Efficient: Faith, respect, humility, sacrifice
Final: Salvation
Aristotle's Four Causes

Christianity 101 teaches us that our redeemer, Jesus Christ, paid for our guilt through his blood and death. And because of the resulting resurrection from the dead, we who are a part of him are raised with him to life everlasting. Unlike the sacrifices of the ancients, this payment is once and for all, and never will need to be made again.

However, as Christians who live in Jesus, we miraculously provide this same sacrifice to others all the time. In fact, this sacrifice is truly the only thing that we can do well. Through this sacrifice, we call the lost, we heal the broken, we humble ourselves, and we worship God. It's a miracle because it is unnatural to us and has supernatural efficient and final causes. Naturally, we expect to get something out of the sacrifices we offer. But the work we do with Jesus is never quid pro quo. We sacrifice not because of jewels in our crown, but only because we love Jesus and we are God's beloved. Miracles are only possible because of the salvific power of Jesus. The pinnacle of this power is displayed in his death and resurrection. That's what miracles are: transformation from death to life. The blind will see. The deaf will hear. The lame will walk. The dead will rise.

In our sacrifices to others, we provide this transformation to others. We sacrifice to keep others from stumbling. We sacrifice ourselves to help others from sinning. And this is exactly what Jesus calls his disciples to do in the miracle of the temple tax. Peter and Jesus are essentially asked by the tax collectors to pay a tax (estimated at two-days wages) as required by Mosaic Law. They miraculously paid the tax to keep the leaders and tax collectors from forcing them to pay what they did not truly owe. Jesus calls us to humble ourselves when necessary to prevent others from doing things they will regret.

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

“Yes, he does,” he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”

“From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “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 17:24-27

Based on the fact that Jesus intervened miraculously, it seems that Peter and Jesus probably didn't have enough money to pay the collectors, or else they would have just coughed up the money, which tells us just about how poor Jesus and his disciples really were. But this miracle really doesn't have anything to do with money, Jesus uses the moment as an object lesson for Peter and his disciples. He asks Peter if he thinks it's fair for them to pay the tax, intending to teach Peter (and us) a few things.

First, Jesus knows that the children of God are co-heirs to all of creation. He compares our relationship with the Father with earthly kingdoms, explaining that it would be pointless for the children of the kings of the earth to pay taxes, because they already owned everything in the kingdom. For if the children of kings were to pay taxes, then it would be just for show and the people would see right through that lie.

But most importantly, Jesus says in essence, "I am the Son of God and you are a child of God. As children we are heirs to all that is of God: the temple, creation, and even all the kingdoms of the earth. But is it more important to boast of our high status than to help bring others back into the fold?"

Peter could have argued with tax collector and said, "We don't need to pay, because we own the temple." How well do you think that would have gone over? But instead, in humility and obedience to the law, they submitted to the authorities and paid their taxes. Once again, we see two supernatural laws in action: humility and obedience. Like the laws of nature, these forces truly govern God's kingdom and they have miraculous results.

As an added bonus, Jesus added one more supernatural law to the mix: faith. Peter had muster up enough faith to go fishing and expect to pull in a fish that contained a coin, valued at the precise amount Jesus and Peter owed.

But what was this miracle all about? What was its 'final cause' or the purpose? Was it just about the wow-effect of Peter pulling a coin out of fish's mouth? I doubt it. Jesus explained the purpose of paying the tax was so they "may not cause offense." Some have translated this as "may not be a stumbling block." This miracle had a profound effect on the authority. It is unclear whether or not the tax collector witnessed the miracle, but just because of Peter's submission to the authority, healing occured.

This is why Jesus went to the cross. He submitted to both the Jewish and the Roman authorities. He didn't summon all the angels in heaven and fight back. In his humility and submission, he brought resurrection to the children of God. He wasn't that kind of sacrificial savior.

We are called to the same type of submission. If we fight the powers and the authoritative structures of both the church and the state, we do not follow the example of Jesus. We aren't wielding the correct swords. Rather we fight with the supernatural forces of humility, obedience, faith, love, kindness and generosity to crush the oppressive nature of fallen humanity. In our sacrifice, we do the work that Jesus left us to do here on earth. It is only for his sake that we can even attempt to do this glorious work.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

1 Peter 2:13-17

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.

Romans 14:13-15

Tags: commentary, miracles