This past Sunday, I preached on a text I had never preached on before. The miracle of the "fishy coin". It's a strange little story found in Matthew 17. Jesus and his disciples are moving through Capernaum when the Temple tax collectors ask Peter, "Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?" The temple tax was about two days wages and helped to support the upkeep of the Temple. Interestingly, the religious leaders and scribes were exempt from this tax. Those who benefited the most from the tax didn't have to pay it! They were laying a trap for Jesus - will he claim that he does not need to pay? Jesus says to Peter, later, in order to not give offense, "... go to the sea 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."
Let's be clear, Jesus did not need to pay this tax. Spiritually, He is the true King and the true sacrificial lamb for whom all sins are forgiven. This tax is not necessary due to who Christ is. Socially, Jesus sees this tax as also unjust. It is not proper and puts an undue burden on the common people, while the religious elites don't have to pay.
But the lesson for us, I think is that Jesus demonstrates the ability to prioritizes problems and challenges that he faces. Yes, the tax was wrong and Jesus could have said that He does not need to pay it, but then he would have brought a firestorm of controversy upon him that would have distracted Him from His mission of redemption. So it's almost humorous how flippant Jesus is about the issue. It's almost as if he said, Okay, Peter just go fishing and I am sure that you will find something that will satisfy the temple tax collectors."
We too can learn from Jesus response to distractions. Stay focused on the big picture and don't get bogged down in the lesser issues of importance. That is the tactic of people who do not care about the communal good, but only their rights and privileges. Jesus is telling us, the church today, to stay on mission! Don't let the little things get in your way. Jesus would send out his disciples into the world with the words "be wise and serpents and kind as doves." We too, should follow this path of true wisdom and love for others. This isn't to say that we are push overs and just let others walk over us, but when the essentials of faith are threatened, we speak and act boldly. Yet there are times when an issue just doesn't rise to that level and isn't worth derailing our mission.
Perhaps the Serenity Prayer is yet another reminder of this idea:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
Indeed, I pray that we can learn from the story of the "fishy coin" and know the difference!
I'm a follower of Christ, husband, father, friend, pastor, story teller, asker of questions, inspired by biblical narratives, social justice advocate, sports enthusiast, drinker of over priced coffee and general seeker of God's redemptive possibilities. Yeah, that about covers it. (If you discover something else, let me know!)