Tax-dispensing fish (Matthew 17:24-27)

This passage is not too long, so I'll post the whole thing here:

"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.”


My historic take on this passage is/was:

a) Jesus had never paid the tax previously
b) Peter lied to cover his boss
c) Jesus showed Peter he (Jesus) didn't need to pay
d) Jesus miraculously provides both his and Peter's tax (thus suggesting that Peter was a freeloader too).

In our Bible study group this evening I was surprised to discover that almost everybody else there thought Jesus was a regular temple-tax payer (cf "so that all righteousness may be fulfilled", etc), and that Peter was therefore telling the straight-up truth (maybe just that Jesus hadn't yet got around to paying this year's levy).

I was also intrigued by Jesus not choosing to go head to head in a confrontation with the tax collectors, preferring to leave them in their ignorance - how often does he take that route "so as not to create a stumbling-block"?

And most of all, I was astounded to realise that the text doesn't actually record any catch of a four-drachma bearing fish: Jesus instructs Peter on what to do, but we don't know whether he did it (could it have been nothing more than a hint that he should be paying the tax out of the proceeds of his usual trade?).

How does all of this jive with your instinctive (or erudite) reading of the text - which occurs only in Matthew?

Comments

  • I've always taken the first part of the exchange as a statement that Jesus doesn't consider the Temple Tax to be appropriate - as children of Israel then all Jews should be exempt from such taxes, if even the kings of the earth don't collect taxes from their children how much less would God collect taxes from His children? The tax was an interpretation of the atonement offering to be given by all Israelite men during a census (Exodus 30:11-16) used to support the Tabernacle. I expect there was some resentment that a very rare offering had become an annual tax - and that this argument of Jesus could have been quite common, possibly among the Essenes and Pharisees who were less tied to the Temple than the Sadducees and Priesthood.
  • I've always taken the first part of the exchange as a statement that Jesus doesn't consider the Temple Tax to be appropriate - as children of Israel then all Jews should be exempt from such taxes, if even the kings of the earth don't collect taxes from their children how much less would God collect taxes from His children?
    So did I, but this interpretation of the illustration is rather undone by the origins of the tax itself, as you also mention:
    The tax was an interpretation of the atonement offering to be given by all Israelite men during a census (Exodus 30:11-16) used to support the Tabernacle.
    All the more so in that in this passage, the "tax" is levied specifically on the children of Israel to the exclusion of foreigners because it is a symbolic ransom payment (v12) (the same for everyone, illustrating that the redemption value of a life was the same irrespective of status or wealth).
  • Robert ArminRobert Armin Shipmate
    If the tax was levelled on all Jews, I'm surprised by the suggestion that Jesus dodged it. Did he have bone spurs too?
  • @Robert Armin do you mean you're surprised by that suggestion in the text ("does he not pay...?") or in how it's understood?

    And if you think he paid it, what do you see as the reasoning behind his explanation to Peter?
  • GarasuGarasu Shipmate
    Is it worth noting that by the time Matthew recorded it we would not have been talking about a Jewish Jerusalem Temple tax but one that had been appropriated by the Romans and would probably have been supporting the Temple of Jupiter?
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    Garasu wrote: »
    Is it worth noting that by the time Matthew recorded it we would not have been talking about a Jewish Jerusalem Temple tax but one that had been appropriated by the Romans and would probably have been supporting the Temple of Jupiter?
    I'm not convinced that's correct. I think this particular tax was collected by Jewish leaders and used to maintain the Temple establishment. Most of the commentaries also seem to support this.

    The interpretation I've always drawn from this curious little story, is that Jesus is saying that whether or not the Temple is entitled to collect this tax off the Messiah, whether there were abstract issues of principle that might theologically have justified refusing to pay it, and if so, whatever they might have been, it's less trouble just to pay it. Even if you could make an issue of it, there's no obligation to do so.

  • HedgehogHedgehog Shipmate
    edited July 2
    I find the fish story to be an interesting variation of the other "tax story" ("Should we pay taxes to Caesar?" "Whose image is on the coin?" "Caesar." "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's.") This story is the logical follow up:

    "Okay, Jesus, how about the Temple Tax--isn't that giving to God! Now what?"

    "Would a king impose a tax on his own children?"

    "No, he would do it on others."

    "Yeah, that's the point: this Temple Tax is NOT something that God demands. It is demanded by those humans who will benefit from it. It is no sin not to pay it. God doesn't get hung up over money...but, look, no need to cause trouble over something that is so completely irrelevant to God's plan as money. Go fish!"

    I see it as Jesus basically keeping the apostles focussed on what is important and not letting themselves get distracted by things that society thinks is important. Pay the emperor's tax if the emperor demands it. Pay the Temple Tax if those who benefit from it demand it. It is unimportant: none of that has anything to do with God. He didn't create the world because he wanted an economy. That is a human invention.
  • LatchKeyKidLatchKeyKid Shipmate
    Why is Matthew giving or including this narrative to his audience?
    I don't think it would be because Matthew's audience had concerns over paying temple tax because the audience is hearing this after the destruction of the 2nd Temple. It does seem to relate to the Roman practice that citizens did not pay tax, while members of the territories they ruled did have to pay tax.

    The narrative happens in Capernaum in Galilee. I find it interesting that the arm of the temple extended beyond Judaea through Samaria into Galilee

    Later, in Matt 21, Jesus describes the Temple as a den of thieves, presumably because of the way the religious authorities taxed the people.

    I need a lot more background to the narrative and the situation of Matthew's audience to make up my mind on this.
  • Enoch wrote: »
    The interpretation I've always drawn from this curious little story, is that Jesus is saying that whether or not the Temple is entitled to collect this tax off the Messiah, whether there were abstract issues of principle that might theologically have justified refusing to pay it, and if so, whatever they might have been, it's less trouble just to pay it. Even if you could make an issue of it, there's no obligation to do so.

    That's an interesting thought, and one that does seem to parallel Jesus' approach to his baptism by John.

    At the same time, records of such instances in Jesus' life are vanishingly small: he usually seems to go for the confrontation - including over money. I suspect some of us may spend a lot of time making an issue out of the wrong issues, but how to tell? Hmm.
    The narrative happens in Capernaum in Galilee. I find it interesting that the arm of the temple extended beyond Judaea through Samaria into Galilee
    That's another one of those things I'd never really noticed before: in my mind's eye, I saw this happening with the Temple in the background, which it patently wasn't.

    Anyone else surprised to find there's actually no record of the fish being caught?

  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    Anyone else surprised to find there's actually no record of the fish being caught?

    No. Why would that be necessary? The point has already been made at this point.
  • @mousethief that's true, but if you had asked me about the incident without letting me look at the text, I'd have sworn the text recorded the miracle itself, not just the instructions.

    Are you telling me you'd have known (without looking) that it wasn't actually recorded? Or that there wasn't, as so often, a phrase to the effect "and Peter went and found it so"?

    I like to think I know my Bible pretty well, but I keep discovering that it doesn't always say what I think it says.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Read again what I wrote. The operative word is "necessary" not "surprising".
  • That wasn't my operative word (which was "surprised").
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    The nature miracle is the lovely surprise and almost extraneous to the story. I'm hearing Jesus reframe his relationship with the Temple as the son of the king and therefore exempt, as all the children of Israel should be. They are not foreigners or outsiders, they are family and should not have to pay a tax to a loving Father.

    At this point however, Jesus needs to exercise strategic diplomacy with Temple tax collectors and authorities, so tells Peter it would be better to pay the tax and not cause offence. And then the story pivots: Peter is to go to the lake and throw out a line. He is not to spend a day or two fishing in order to earn the money to pay the tax for himself and Jesus -- this is not about work, it is an effortless gratuitous gift from God as loving parent in response to Jesus' predicament. Peter is to open the mouth of the first fish caught and there he will find a shining coin, enough to pay taxes for himself and Jesus. The earlier pragmatism has fallen away, this is now a magical gesture that only Peter and Jesus will know about, one that shows Jesus' faith that his Father will give him whatever he asks for. As readers, do we need to know it will all happen exactly as foretold?
  • MaryLouise wrote: »
    He is not to spend a day or two fishing in order to earn the money to pay the tax for himself and Jesus -- this is not about work, it is an effortless gratuitous gift from God as loving parent in response to Jesus' predicament.

    That in itself makes an interesting pivot away from the "ransom" imagery of the original levy in Exodus first mentioned by @Alan Cresswell , and associated transactional views of salvation...
  • The "ransom" imagery is interesting in itself. It's a price paid to avoid the consequences of holding a census, a plague. A census in this context being counting the number of men available for the army, which is something that is both discouraged by God as it shows a lack of faith (hence the threat of plague against the nation if a census is held) and also at times something God commands. By the time of Jesus, that basis for holding a census is no longer common - the Romans are interested in how much tax they can raise, and would presumably not be happy if a vassal state or province was to hold a census to see how many men they could count on to fight a war. There's a big question there about whether or not the Exodus 30 ransom was a valid payment in the absence of registering in a census.

    That the money raised went to pay for the Tabernacle (or, later the Temple) is secondary. The ransom is paid to God, and for it to be paid to support the worship of God is one way of spending it given that God doesn't actually have any need for it.
  • GracieGracie Shipmate, 8th Day Host Posts: 19
    I find it interesting that the collectors of the two-drachma tax challenge Peter about whether or not Jesus pays the tax, rather than Jesus himself. That suggests to me that they are trying to mak Peter uncomfortable, and challenge his allegiance to Jesus, by insinuating that Jesus does not identify himself as a Jew by paying the tax.

    It's also interesting to note than when Jesus talks to Peter about the incident (which he probably wasn't there for, walking on ahead to the house), he addresses Peter as Simon, which is something he often seems to do in times of doubt or challenge for Peter.

    My understanding is that Jesus did pay the tax, not because he had to, but because he chose to, to identify with the people.
  • W HyattW Hyatt Shipmate
    I wonder if Jesus had in mind at all the divine admonishment that the original tabernacle was to be constructed using only free will offerings.
  • EutychusEutychus Admin
    edited July 3
    The "ransom" imagery is interesting in itself. It's a price paid to avoid the consequences of holding a census, a plague. A census in this context being counting the number of men available for the army, which is something that is both discouraged by God as it shows a lack of faith (hence the threat of plague against the nation if a census is held) and also at times something God commands. By the time of Jesus, that basis for holding a census is no longer common - the Romans are interested in how much tax they can raise, and would presumably not be happy if a vassal state or province was to hold a census to see how many men they could count on to fight a war. There's a big question there about whether or not the Exodus 30 ransom was a valid payment in the absence of registering in a census.

    That the money raised went to pay for the Tabernacle (or, later the Temple) is secondary. The ransom is paid to God, and for it to be paid to support the worship of God is one way of spending it given that God doesn't actually have any need for it.

    I've just spent a while going down this rabbit-hole.

    In Ex 30, the levy is unequivocally a fundraiser for the tabernacle accompanying a census. Avoiding a plague is invoked as the reason for paying the 'ransom', but no further explanation is given.

    In 2 Chronicles 24, Joash invokes this levy to raise money to restore the temple, but further claims it is an annual tax (2 Chr 24:5) on no Scriptural basis I can see. No census is mentioned. It is presumably this tradition that is referred to in Matthew 17.

    Meanwhile, David conducted an unauthorised census. Depending on whether you read 2 Sam 24 or 1 Chr 21 God incited him to do it, or the Devil did. David has to choose between three punishments, and opts for three days of plague - which oddly, resonates with Ex 30, though no mention is made of it.
  • Forgot the parallel passage to 2 Chr 24 in 2 Kings 12, where things get even curiouser.

    In this version, Joash invokes the practice of payment to "ransom" somebody symbolically given to God alluded to in Leviticus 27, which reads something like an insurance valuation scheme: the priest assigns a value based on age, sex, etc. (interestingly here, as opposed to in Exodus, women have a monetary value!). So the "ransom" here has nothing to do with plagues, the payment is means-tested, not regressive, and no mention is made of making the levy annualised.

    If there isn't a book out there on taxation systems in the Bible, there's certainly more than enough material for one.
  • There are academic papers on it. There are also some things produced by the Institute for Creation Research (:eek:)
  • LatchKeyKidLatchKeyKid Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    The narrative happens in Capernaum in Galilee. I find it interesting that the arm of the temple extended beyond Judaea through Samaria into Galilee
    That's another one of those things I'd never really noticed before: in my mind's eye, I saw this happening with the Temple in the background, which it patently wasn't.
    Further reading indicates that "the arm" of the temple extended into the Hellenic diaspora.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    The rabbit holes are irresistible. I sat up earlier looking at images of silver Tyrian coins showing dolphins or sea monsters, the great Hellenic pagan mythic symbols of the ocean deities. Would this miracle narrative have been read in part as Jesus showing he has power over the imperial and pagan divinities of the sea as well as over the laws of nature? And I found myself thinking about Peter, who is not just a Jew deriving his identity from the Temple in Jerusalem but a Galilean fisher[man] who will soon become a 'fisher of people'.

    It's easier to read these micro-narratives side by side than to try and read them as any kind of continuous narrative. I agree with @Gracie about the trope of the Temple tax collectors trying to trick Peter into revealing something dissident about Jesus, the desire of Jesus to avoid confrontations at this stage. Ahead there will be the confrontation with the money-changers in the Temple at Jerusalem and the disciples' epiphany that Jesus Christ himself is now the true Temple. Jesus here isn't really concerned with the established tradition of taxation in itself, it has been superseded by a new understanding of the Kingdom. He wants to reveal more of his mission to Simon/Peter, he wants to show that this is not about a monarch and obedient subjects but about the intimacy of a loving parent with their children, sons and daughters who have been set free of certain obligations.

    So the twist or surprise comes with the proposed miracle. Peter is instructed to do something that makes no sense in rational terms. He is to pay the tax collectors their four drachma. But in order to do so, he is to carry out a mysterious ritual in unquestioning trust. The 'doing' of the ritual is left open and unrecorded. The instruction is enough for now.

  • MaryLouise wrote: »
    He wants to reveal more of his mission to Simon/Peter, he wants to show that this is not about a monarch and obedient subjects but about the intimacy of a loving parent with their children, sons and daughters who have been set free of certain obligations.
    Yes, the word translated 'set free' (ἐλεύθεροί) is the same one used in John 8:36 when Jesus is discussing slavery and talks about the Son 'setting free'.
    So the twist or surprise comes with the proposed miracle. Peter is instructed to do something that makes no sense in rational terms. He is to pay the tax collectors their four drachma.
    What's really surprising here is that the instruction stands in complete contrast to the principle, for the sake of not being a stumbling-block. Which suddenly reminds me of Paul's circumcision of Timothy.

  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    Interesting, I hadn't thought about 'set free' and John; and the word freedom is so often a highly charged and problematic term in the NT. There is pragmatism, compromise and the need to sidestep hypocritical spies and critics (the Sadducees and Pharisees) but alongside this there are paradoxes and improbabilities.

    Aside from the argument against payment of the Temple tax given in the first micro-narrative by Jesus, there is also the issue of paying by silver Tyrian coinage as being a form of repugnant idolatry since the coins were stamped with images of the Imperial eagle or a pagan sea god. Roman silver coins were inferior to Tyrian, but since Jewish people under the occupation were not allowed to mint silver, to handle Tyrian coins was often unavoidable and moneychanging in the Temple was the inevitable outcome.

    If though, that idolatrous coin is provided as a gift, turning up in the open mouth of a fish without any knowable history or associations of monetary trade, does something about the nature of that coin or transaction alter? The disciple has done nothing to earn the coin, he has not had to enter into moneychanging transactions with his hard-earned shekels, he has not taken possession of a coin that has passed through many hands and is tainted by association. And the fish itself that has a coin unswallowed in its open mouth, a fish that is the first to be caught, that is itself an offering -- a ichthys acronym and symbol later taken up in the early church and which may also represent the Sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:38) prefiguring the Resurrection. What defies rational sense and reason, pointing to another kind of freedom and gifting. The coin to come from the sea is a cleansed and renewed object pointing to what is possible for God.
  • MaryLouise wrote: »
    The coin to come from the sea is a cleansed and renewed object pointing to what is possible for God.
    And what is made available to humankind through God's grace. Freedom - exemption from any transactional relationship with God (or in this instance, being able to fully satisfy the prevailing transactional policy yet at no cost) - is provided by him. Although we still have our part to play (go fish).

  • Lamb ChoppedLamb Chopped Shipmate
    Am I the only one who sees humor in this?

    The temple tax people come around being PITAs, and Jesus takes the occasion to make a theological point to Peter about the difference between being a child of the King and a tributary to the King. But having made that very lovely point, he flips a hand and says, "I suppose we still need to get rid of these people" (who are doubtless hovering just outside the door, waiting for their $) "so do this utterly ridiculous thing and hand it over, sheesh." And away Peter goes, with his tail of temple tax collectors, who are doubtless Freaked.The.Hell.Out by what he does next--especially when it works...
  • InterloperInterloper Shipmate Posts: 9
    That makes me wonder what the motivation of the temple tax people was. Were they mindless bureaucrats just after their $? Had they seen the collection plate filling up and thought now was a good time to cash in? Or were they trying to catch out a peasant preacher who was unlikely to have that much money on him?
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    Am I the only one who sees humor in this?

    The temple tax people come around being PITAs, and Jesus takes the occasion to make a theological point to Peter about the difference between being a child of the King and a tributary to the King. But having made that very lovely point, he flips a hand and says, "I suppose we still need to get rid of these people" (who are doubtless hovering just outside the door, waiting for their $) "so do this utterly ridiculous thing and hand it over, sheesh." And away Peter goes, with his tail of temple tax collectors, who are doubtless Freaked.The.Hell.Out by what he does next--especially when it works...

    It's tempting to see a comic and anarchic twist here but it sounds to me as if it might be a joke at Peter's expense as the fall guy.

    And flippancy belies the persecutory menace Jesus is trying to outwit at every turn, the surveillance by Temple tax collectors and officials, the risk of a confrontation with the Roman occupying force and bureaucracy, the threat of betrayal. I'd never thought though that the tax collectors (trailing Peter) might witness the miracle at the sea shore! Wouldn't they dismiss it as sorcery or use the incident to further condemn Jesus?
  • As I said earlier, I speculated there was likely to be a wide-spread non-payment, and that the question of the legality of the annual tax was a point of disagreement between the different factions in Judaism. The Temple at the time was a massive ego-project of King Herod, replacing the functional but much smaller post-Exile Temple with something to fit Herod's ego. That would have increased the maintenance costs. The Herodians and Sadducees were very tied to the Temple, whereas the Pharisees were centred on the synagogues and it's probable that the Essenes were also less attached to the Temple. Were those who's daily experience of the faith didn't involve the Temple be as willing to pay a tax that was being collected annually on a pattern from Exodus that would suggest a much less regular payment? I can imagine that being a regular point being raised when these groups got to talking, a point of interpretation of the Torah.

    So, when the collectors approach Simon Peter with their question this could have had a broader background. Finding out where Jesus stood on the question, was he aligning himself with Pharisee or Sadducee? His answer seems to be supporting the Pharisee side (if my speculation is correct) that this isn't a tax Jews should pay, but he then goes and sends Simon fishing to pay it anyway. Classic refusing to let himself be pigeon-holed into the various camps of Judaism (we can see a similar example in Mark 12:18-27, Luke 20:27-38 with the question about the woman married to seven brothers, which is a "thought experiment" on the nature of resurrection highlighting the difference between Pharisee and Sadducee).

    It is, of course, also possibly another example of Jewish authorities trying to catch him out into saying something that they could use to label him as a heretic, or to turn the crowds against him. If he doesn't pay the tax (even if tax payment wasn't universal) then they could accuse him of not caring for the Temple and wanting to see it decay through lack of maintenance, of disrespecting the building. If he pays the tax then they could drive a wedge between him and supporters of the Pharisees (and, the Gospels suggest that a lot of his support base was from people sympathetic to the Pharisees, which would make sense in Galilee where distance from Jerusalem made the synagogues much more central to the religious life of the people).
  • RdrEmCofERdrEmCofE Shipmate
    MaryLouise wrote: »
    The nature miracle is the lovely surprise and almost extraneous to the story. . . . . . this is now a magical gesture that only Peter and Jesus will know about, one that shows Jesus' faith that his Father will give him whatever he asks for. As readers, do we need to know it will all happen exactly as foretold?

    I have often wondered how the coin might have got where Jesus predicted it would be. Someone must have lost the coin. Jesus didn't mint it, he was surely no forger. Might there be some metaphorical implication involved in the way this 'tax' was delivered and provided out of someone else's misfortune in losing the coin. Might there be somewhat of a 'lost sheep', 'lost widows coin', echo in this story as well.

    In any event I get the impression that Jesus doesn't want Peter to waste time on trivia so shows him that God can provide what's needful without the normal distractions of having to work for it, but seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
  • EutychusEutychus Admin
    edited July 6
    RdrEmCofE wrote: »
    but seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
    This verse has certainly come to mind for me with regard to this passage. Although Peter would have to "work" at least a minimal amount to obtain the coin.
    I have often wondered how the coin might have got where Jesus predicted it would be. Someone must have lost the coin. Jesus didn't mint it, he was surely no forger. Might there be some metaphorical implication involved in the way this 'tax' was delivered
    The terms of the announced miracle are so odd that I've also wondered, now I've realised the miracle itself isn't recorded, whether we're not altogether mistaken in thinking we are to understand it happened as described (there's not even an "and it was so"), and that the primary meaning of Jesus' words isn't in some way ironic or metaphorical - along the "seek ye first" lines.

    And now you mention it, producing money does seem very out of the ordinary for Jesus. Are there any other miracles that don't involve bodies, food, drink, or nature? I can't think of any off the top of my head. This is more like a conjuring trick.

    I also agree with @Hedgehog that it brings to mind "render unto Caesar" but unlike that saying it sort of fuses together the Caesar/God aspects rather than separating them. I don't feel like I've got to the bottom of this yet.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    @Eutychus -- one reason I have spent so much time with these two narratives over the years is because they call for differing approaches but remain open-ended and unresolved, elude all kinds of supposition or analysis. That 'prequel' to do with paying the Temple tax isn't hard to figure out and I especially liked what Alan Cresswell posted. The 'sequel-as-non-sequitur' needs a different kind of hermeneutic, what I'd think of as a jump from straightforward historical-critical method to imaginative speculation, not unlike appreciating a fairy tale or snatch of poetry.

    Jesus doesn't actively perform the miracle himself: he tells Peter what to do. All the initiative and arrangement, the time and place, the mechanisms needed, have been set in place already. The silver coin belongs to nobody -- it may have been dropped overboard by a fishing vessel, it may have been lying on the sea floor. The coin itself may signify idolatry or oppression but here it is offered free of those connotations. There is no natural reason for a fish to pick up but not swallow the coin, to hold the coin in its mouth while somehow biting into a fishing hook: absurd, if we think about it. Peter is not fishing for money or food, he is simply throwing out a flaxen line with hooks, and trusting that the fish will appear as predicted. He is to go on a brief quest without needing to use his human initiative or skills or discernment. If he does what he is told to do, the miracle will happen of its own accord as foretold by Jesus. [There is some echo here is the paradox of conversion, Waugh in Brideshead Revisited: ‘I caught him’ (the thief) ‘with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.’]

    As folklore, I'm inclined to think that many elements here would resonate at deeper levels for early readers. I'm thinking about the legends and myths told and retold in ancient peasant communities and fishing communities about a large fish leaping into the boat of its own accord, the bag of gold discovered in the upturned earth of a ploughed field, the fruit ripening on a bough in winter. Inexplicable, gratuitous bounty. What doesn't make sense, is a source of amazement as pure undeserved gift from the unknown.

    And yet the coin is destined for a very human purpose, an unhappy compromise. It is an exact amount and Peter will hand it to the Temple tax collectors on behalf of Jesus and himself. This magical sea-washed coin will re-enter the sordid transactions around tribute and taxation.
  • Wow. There's more to take in there than I have time for right now, but just one thing:
    MaryLouise wrote: »
    If he does what he is told to do, the miracle will happen of its own accord as foretold by Jesus.
    That's a useful distinction from other miracles. All the ingredients of the event, while unlikely when placed end to end, are natural (unlike, say, the blind seeing or the water turning into wine). The supernatural element is the foretelling.

  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    @Eutychus, it's always worth taking a closer look when Jesus 'delegates' a miracle. A performance or sometimes a ritual that involves one or more performers; it is something requiring participation, simple obedience or faith on the part of those entrusted with carrying out Jesus' instructions. An irreducible sign and wonder: terasa is always used with semeion.

    The uncanny element, yes, is that Jesus always knows what will ensue. He knows what will happen and when in doing the will of his Father. He reads the hearts of those around him and places himself at the cutting edge of encounter, pushing the envelope to let God break in on the natural as the Resurrection will break open and transform the everyday reality for the disciples. Jesus often tells the unbelieving or puzzled disciples exactly what is to happen, or simply instructs them to perform an act or gesture.

    So when Mary at the wedding in Cana says, 'Do exactly what he tells you,' she speaks in absolute confidence and trust that this is doable at once, that the laws of time and space don't apply. Jesus tells the servants to draw water and fill the jars; the miracle though has already taken place in that Jesus has inwardly responded to his mother and spoken his command.

    In the same way, when Jesus tells the fishers in John to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, the fish are already there to be caught. He has foreseen this eventuality, the activation of the miraculous. He knows what is hidden from those around him. He doesn't need their participation or co-operation but he involves them all the same, so that those who witness the outcome of the miracle might glimpse something of the Messiah in him, the coming Kingdom.

    Rushing, so this is clumsy wording, but that 'foretelling' is the crux for me. Whether or not the miracle of the fish caught with a coin in its mouth actually happened is irrelevant for gospel purposes.
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    Matthew wrote his Gospel during the time of the expulsion of the Christians from the Synagogues. I believe the temple had already been destroyed. The fish had long been associated with Jesus. I think the story is more about leaving the temple behind and putting one's trust in Jesus.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    Gramps49 wrote: »
    Matthew wrote his Gospel during the time of the expulsion of the Christians from the Synagogues. I believe the temple had already been destroyed. The fish had long been associated with Jesus. I think the story is more about leaving the temple behind and putting one's trust in Jesus.

    I'm not sure about the timing of the expulsion from the synagogues, but other than that I find your idea credible.
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    tclune wrote: »
    Gramps49 wrote: »
    Matthew wrote his Gospel during the time of the expulsion of the Christians from the Synagogues. I believe the temple had already been destroyed. The fish had long been associated with Jesus. I think the story is more about leaving the temple behind and putting one's trust in Jesus.

    I'm not sure about the timing of the expulsion from the synagogues, but other than that I find your idea credible.

    The expulsion of Christians from the synagogues happened at the end of the first century. Matthew was written around 85 CE after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. You can see there is a lot more tension between Jesus and the Pharisees in Matthew than in Mark and it even gets worse in John. I am pretty sure Matthew is saying forget the temple, put your trust in the fish.

    In other words, the story is to be taken symbolically, not literally.

  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    A little more to the above comment.

    The Jewish Synod of Jamnia, probably in the mid-80s of the 1st century, was responsible for excommunicating the Christians/Nazarenes from mainstream Judaism for two reasons: first, this expansion of monotheism, and second, the repudiation of Torah dietary laws and circumcision that came with the embrace of the Gentiles. Many Jewish Christians in the late 1st century found themselves aposunagogos, literally, “cast out from the synagogue.” We see hints of this both in the gospel of St. Matthew and in the gospel of St. John. It is better to see the separation of the ways between Christianity and Judaism as a process over time rather than something that took place exclusively at one point in time.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    The whole nineteenth century hypothesis that there was a Synod or Council of Jamnia has been significantly questioned over the last few decades. I wouldn’t care to rest any interpretation upon its supposed existence.
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    Historically, though, there was an expulsion of Christians from the synagogues in the late first century, which would have been around the time the Gospel of Matthew was written, council or not.
  • The text is no doubt influenced by the time(s) when it was written, but this idea of anachronisms being inserted into the narrative just to make a contemporary point is new to me.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    Yes. I find it easier to believe that a long-standing known story was included for that reason than that a whole incident was invented in order to make that point.
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