As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.’ And they were greatly distressed. When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?’ He said, ‘Yes, he does.’ And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?’ When Peter said, ‘From others’, Jesus said to him, ‘Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offence to them, go to the lake and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.’
After the first time I heard this story I went fishing with my grandad. I checked the mouth of the first fish I caught. No coin! Over the years the fishing in those lakes became worse. Summers would go by where I didn’t catch a single fish. Sitting in tackle shops, many blamed it on overfishing by commercial fleets. While no one was literally pulling coins out of fish’s mouths, those fleets were harvesting fish to make money that fed and sheltered working people’s families. Others blamed the decline on invasive species and pollution. It turns out that it was all of the above. As the fish became sparse, big fleets disappeared. Fewer tourists came. The tackle shops closed. Fewer coins circulated.
When Jesus proclaimed that he would be killed by human hands, he was telling his friends that a gift of God—indeed, God’s very self—would be killed by the cycle of violence that dominated human life. This distressed them, but they knew he spoke truth. We know it, too: that cycle of violence continues today. Our acts of even passive-seeming violence, such as environmental degradation, destroy rich gifts that God has given us which, with good stewardship, can feed and house families and communities.
Jesus reminds Peter that violence will always be the way of earthly kings (or rulers). They, like the collectors of the Temple tax, have little interest in having a relationship with people or how they steward resources. They just want the coins. But we, who live and move in this world, can have a relationship with Jesus and a creation which provides more than enough resources for all. And we know that even if the rulers try to compel us to destroy it all for coin, there will be a resurrection. Thanks be to God for that.
God, help us not to see people or creation as things from which we extract for gain. Save us from co-option in that which destroys creation. Help us to see how God’s resurrection gift of life can be found in relationship the way Jesus is in relationship with us, as he was with his disciples. Amen.
The Rev’d Ryan Sirmons, North West & Central Newcastle upon Tyne Pastorate