Updated: Sep 24, 2021
Honestly, the miracle at the end of Matthew 17 has to be one of the oddest in the Gospels. All the others feel like the are big, helpful events that heal the world and make life better for people in important ways. They are impressive. Finding a coin in the mouth of a fish is small and quite weird and it is also somewhat...funny. This morning I can't help but feel that there is a humourous intention to this story, like Jesus is telling a sort of joke that Matthew gets and he his now letting us in on it.
I've been to a number of really big cathedrals, and seen truly enormous pieces of art. They are gorgeous and impressive and I will never forget some of them (the open arms of Jesus in Sacre Couer of Paris, for example). But sometimes I find them overwhelming--some are so big that I can't even take them in. Sometimes I want something small, and beautiful--something that works at my level. This little story feels like that--a little, intricate little story that maybe Matthew has included because it amuses him, and he hopes it will amuse us. There is a point, which is where the beauty comes from, but it is gentle.
As I meditate on it and pray, I realize that part of the pleasure of the passage is precisely this dynamic of feeling like I'm in on the joke. Throughout a lot of the Gospels I feel like the disciples must have felt a bit on the outside, trying to keep up with what Jesus is doing and teaching. Jesus is showing the way, and I'm grateful, but I am learning, being corrected. In this passage, it feels a bit more like Jesus and the disciples and I (the reader) are on the same page. We all understand that the tax is corrupt and unfair, but it's not worth making a big deal over, we roll our eyes a little and then pay it and don't make a fuss. Then there's the gift of this intricate little stunt of catching a fish and getting the coin, which I can't help but believe that Jesus did in part simply because it was fun (in addition to more serious ideas about God's provision and the distance between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of money), and the final little bit of generosity--not just His tax, but Peter's too. It is an encouraging reminder that Jesus and I are on the same side, and He is my brother and it is not all picking up crosses--sometimes its finding money in fish.