Reading: Matthew 17:24-27
THE secret of the Church’s functioning can be found in the word “partnership”. Peter was one of the original members of the Church, and had an important ministry in it, so it seems natural and right that the Lord should have given him some private tuition on the subject. This fact seems to explain the passage we are considering, and it makes it clear that the whole procedure begins with a personal partnership with Christ Himself — “for me and thee”.
AN UNUSUAL MIRACLE
All miracles are unusual, and it may seem trite so to describe this one. Consider, however, its peculiar features! It was — in a sense — unnecessary, for Christ Himself proved to Peter that He had no need to pay the temple dues. Moreover it was the only miracle by which the Lord provided money. More remarkably, it was the only miracle which He performed on His own behalf. (The question of Peter’s liability as a patriotic Jew was not raised by the questioners, though he himself may have been troubled to think that this might be the first year in which he had failed to pay his usual subscription). Finally it was a private miracle. There were no spectators at all; it was just an intimate experience of one man with his Lord, probably in his own home.
It is true that Peter actually came from Bethsaida, but we know that his mother-in-law had been healed in their home at Capernaum. If “the house” mentioned here was Peter’s own home it means that he must often have gone out of that same door and down to that same part of the sea to fish. Could it really be for a miracle that the Lord now commanded him to repeat that commonplace action — “go thou to the sea …”? Peter, the fisherman was not told to do something unusual, but to go to the usual place and do the usual thing — “cast an hook …”. From that simple action came illumination on a great spiritual truth, for Peter found himself in a miraculous experience of partnership with Christ. Had there been only a half-shekel in the fish’s mouth, the result would have been a wonderful provision for the Lord’s own need. Had there been two half-shekels then there would have been separate provision for Christ’s need and for Peter’s too. But this was even more significant — both needs were met in the one coin. In this way Peter was left with a private experience between himself and his Lord alone in which he was given an elementary lesson in the miracle of spiritual partnership.
THE LORD FIRST
Some might regard this coincidence as hardly worthy of the name of “miracle”, for no doubt from time to time fish did swallow coins in that lake, and perhaps a fish with a coin stuck in its gullet would be ready to catch at Peter’s hook. To the sensitive mind, however, the essence of a miracle is often its perfect timing. Measured by this standard it was a miracle indeed, for Peter did not have to go on fishing until he found a fish with a coin, but was assured that the very first fish would have it — and it had!
So it was that Peter’s mental problem concerning his Master’s moral obligation as a Jew was fully solved. We do not know whether he had any particular concern about his own inability to meet his obligation. What we do know is that he had been challenged about his Lord, and out of loyalty had impulsively committed Christ to the payment of the half-shekel. He had committed Him, and yet it appeared that neither of them possessed the necessary money. It represented roughly a day’s pay, and doubtless Peter would very gladly have done sufficient work to pay for his Lord’s subscription, but he knew that he had been called to abandon that kind of work in order to devote himself to the work of the kingdom, so the problem could not be solved by that means. Yet, in a sense, the Lord’s need did require some action from Peter, and he found himself faced with a command which seemed unlikely and perhaps trivial, and which was yet the key to the solution.
He obeyed. We know the wonderful result and can well imagine with what relief and pleasure Peter went off to find the collectors of religious subscriptions and handed over the money for his Master, Jesus of Nazareth. But see what had happened! In caring for the good name of his Lord he had also found the provision for his own need, and was able to add, “and include my payment in that shekel, please!” The same miracle had provided for them both. That coin was a symbol of partnership. As Peter took care for the Lord’s interests, [30/31] God took care of his. One must presume that this might well have proved Peter’s first experience of ever having to default in what he regarded as an honourable obligation, but he did not default — the miracle was not only “for Me”, it was also “for thee”.
PARTNERS WITH CHRIST
The basis of Church life is partnership together in a partnership with Christ (Hebrews 3:14), but it is a partnership which can only be maintained by a divine miracle. We would gladly work for it (as Peter would have worked to earn Christ’s halfshekel) but it does not come this way. It must be God’s doing, and yet it requires obedience from us just as in Peter’s case he had to obey the command to go down to the sea and cast his hook. Such obedience pre-supposes that we are making His interests our first concern, and also that we are ready to do simple things which may hardly seem relevant to spiritual values.
Like Peter, we have to learn first to enter into a personal partnership with Christ in our home setting. Just there, not in some foreign field or by hiving off to some attractive movement somewhere else, but right in the homely and perhaps unpromising circumstances of our fellowship life, we are to prove God’s power to do His miracle. The man who is going to count in the partnership of the Church is the man who has first learned this simple lesson in private.
Again and again in his later life Peter must have enjoyed the spiritual counterpart of this experience, putting the Lord’s needs first and then finding his own fully met (1 Peter 5:7). Moreover in the realm of Church life he was able to set a pattern among God’s people in which the individual believers have such a personal walk with the Lord that they find Him the centre and secret of their happy functioning together (1 Peter 4:8-11).
In some ways this was the simplest of miracles yet its spiritual significance is of supreme importance. No church can function together in its witness to the world unless its individual members are proving in private the vital partnership suggested by Christ’s words, “For me and thee”.