A fishy story from the Bible

Posted by James Hahn on

Peter: ...and I kid you not.  I threw the line in just as Jesus told me and I pulled out this enormous fish.  I mean, I fought him for a good 10 minutes...


Peter: ...no really, and then, when I finally got him to shore, I opened his mouth and there was a coin worth exactly twice the Temple tax just like Jesus said.


Peter: What?

Thomas: I doubt that's what really happened...

There are a lot of great fish stories in the bible but this one truly is a whopper.  Sandwiched between miracles, parables, and the Transfiguration it really seems out of place.  It's like a little inside story that wasn't meant to go to print but did.

However, maybe Matthew is trying to teach us something about St. Peter in this short passage.  This is the second time Jesus mentions His Passion.  The last time it happened Jesus ended up calling St. Peter - Satan - for thinking not as God thinks but as man.  This time it appears that St. Peter has learned is lesson.

We can also see that St. Peter has now taken a primary role among the Apostles.  The tax collectors do not confront Jesus directly but rather they go to Peter, "...the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, 'Does not your teacher pay the temple tax?'"  Peter does not consult Jesus but answers directly that He does pay the tax.

When they enter the house, Jesus doesn't reprimand Peter but rather uses the incident as a teaching moment.  He illustrates, using the earthly references, that those who belong to the Heavenly Kingdom are not subject to earthly taxes.  He constantly wants to keep the eyes of His followers on Heaven.  However, so as not to give offence, He submits to the earthly tax reminding us that we are truly foreigners and aliens on pilgrimage to our Heavenly Homeland.

Jesus could have instructed St. Peter to seek out Judas for the money to pay the tax but He doesn't.  Rather He instructs the fisherman to return to his roots to find the payment.  We can imagine Peter sitting along the shore with his hook and line in the water waiting patiently, alone with his thoughts.  In his mind's eye he sees the carpenter tell the fisherman to cast out into the deep.  He remembers the astonishment of so great a catch.  He hears in his heart the words, "for now on you will be catching men."

This short fish story in today's Gospel illustrates a deeper connection between St. Peter and Jesus.  Perhaps it's a foreshadowing of another time to come when Jesus and Peter will once again share a fish, on the shore, by a fire after Jesus' Resurrection.

Like He does with St. Peter, Jesus reaches out to us where we are and through what we know.  He uses the world around us, friends, family, job, etc., to teach us and lead us closer to Himself.  How is He teaching you today?  Maybe He's asking you to go fishing?  Maybe He's asking you to quietly pick up one more dirty towel off of the bathroom floor while praying for your children?  Maybe He's asking you to be patient with that younger co-worker and share your knowledge?  He spoke to Peter through fish, fishing, the sea, and the waves.  How is he speaking to you?

"Let us work. Let us work a lot and work well, without forgetting that prayer is our best weapon. That is why I will never tire of repeating that we have to be contemplative souls in the middle of the world, who try to convert their work into prayer." - St. Josemaria Escriva, The Furrow #497

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