This may rank as Jesus’ most unusual miracle. It is certainly not surprising that Matthew, the tax-collector-turned-disciple, recorded the story. You can be certain that in Matthew’s career as a Roman tax collector, nobody else had ever told him a story like this one.
“When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the temple tax approached Peter and said, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. When he went into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes? From their sons or from strangers?’ ‘From strangers,’ he said. ‘Then the sons are free,’ Jesus told him. ‘But, so we won’t offend them, go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and take the first fish that you catch. When you open its mouth you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for me and you’ ” (Matthew 17:24–27).
Capernaum was Peter’s hometown and Jesus’ base of operation in Galilee. “When they came to Capernaum” the tax collectors recognized Peter, knowing that his taxes remained unpaid. I suspect that the religious leaders also had a hand in this confrontation. If the Pharisees knew that Jesus and His closest associate were delinquent, they would have pressed the issue and claimed that Jesus was a law-breaker. When the tax collector collared Peter he asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” Peter responded, “Of course He does. He’s an honest man who always pays His bills!”
The “temple tax” (Exodus 30:11-16), was levied upon every male over the age of twenty. It was not a civil tax supporting the Roman government, but a Jewish tax. Annually, every man was required to pay a half-shekel in support of the temple.
Later, when Peter arrived at the house where Jesus was lodging, “Jesus spoke to him first.”The Omniscient One already knew about Peter’s conversation with the tax-man. Before Peter could ask Jesus about the unpaid tax bill, Jesus asked a hypothetical question. “Peter, does the king pay taxes to his kingdom?” Jesus pointed out that He and His sons were exempt from this required tax because He was the King and they were His privileged sons. But, “so we won’t offend them,” Jesus said, let’s pay the bill.
This is where the story gets fun.
Jesus told Peter to go the short distance down to the Sea of Galilee. “Take your old cane-pole, bait a hook, and cast it out into the waters.” As a commercial fisherman, Peter didn’t fish with a pole, but with a net. But on this occasion, Jesus told Peter to throw out a line. “When you catch a fish, you will find a coin in its mouth.” That was odd. He’d never caught a fish that was rich. “When you open its mouth, you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for me and you.”
Matthew’s account doesn’t explicitly say what coin was in the fish’s mouth. The words, inspired by the Holy Spirit, say that Peter should take the coin that he found in the fish’s mouth and pay the tax. So, what did Peter find? He must have found a single shekel. The tax for Jesus was a half-shekel. The tax for Peter was a half-shekel. I have no doubt that Peter found a shekel ... and learned a great lesson about trusting Jesus (Matthew 6:33). It was not too little, and it was not too much. It was a miracle.
All Scripture quotations, except as otherwise noted, are from
Holman Bible Publishers’ Christian Standard Bible.