Last week we looked at the “Compassionate Abundance” of Jesus; this week I’m continuing the theme of God’s abundance, but from the aspect of His incredible creativity as our Sovereign Provider. Imagine yourself as an on-the-spot observer of the following scene:
After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” –Matthew 17:24-27, NIV
Knowing that all of Jesus’ actions and words are purposeful and have significance causes me to ponder the meaning behind this intriguing little story, reported only in the Gospel of Matthew. Rather than solving the problem of the temple tax through more ordinary means, Jesus chose to use a fish, and He asked Peter to be the fisherman. This seems significant in several ways, not the least of which is the fact that Peter apparently did not question the odd instructions or hesitate in carrying them out. Then there is the fact that fishing had been Peter’s previous livelihood; so perhaps Jesus wanted to make the point that his effort and cooperation were a vital part of meeting the need that was at hand. Although the Creator of the universe could have produced the required tax out of thin air, He gave Peter the privilege of participating in the miracle...resulting in a fishing expedition he would never forget!
I can just picture Peter grinning over the delight of this most unusual catch; while at the same time knowing with a depth of certainty that no matter how skilled a fisherman he might be, his labors would never be enough to produce a fish with a coin its mouth. So perhaps the lesson is also this: while we must be faithful to whatever calling God has given us, we are to remember that He is the One who is ultimately the Source of all provision. Our accomplishments and possessions are not the work of our own hands, and we must not be deluded into thinking so. God is the Sovereign Provider of everything we receive.
Many years ago, on a cold morning in early January, I sat on our sofa working on a budget for the coming year. My chest was tight, and my heart had a sinking feeling of despair. Despite the facts that my husband and I were working hard, serving God, and faithfully tithing our limited income, the financial hole we were in seemed so deep that I could not fathom a way out. I prayed…but hope was hard to hold on to.
Three weeks after that disheartening budget review, we received an unexpected check in the mail: a check totaling just over $4000! Unable to comprehend that this was a check and not yet another bill, I fell to the floor on my knees in stunned disbelief. It turns out that it was a refund (plus interest) from the insurance company which we had carried at the time of our youngest son’s premature birth more than five years earlier. The hospital and doctor bills from that experience were enormous, and even the 20% we were responsible for took several years to pay off. The state apparently decided that patients had been overcharged for services and ordered mass refunds. But that wasn’t the only miracle! Just as God had arranged for a coin to be found in the mouth of a fish, so He arranged for this check to somehow land in the mouth of our mailbox. The envelope was postmarked December 13, six weeks earlier; and there was nothing on the envelope but our former address and a handwritten “Return to Sender” note on the front. Nothing on the envelope identified our current address! Rejoicing in this abundant provision, my husband and I were able to pay off our bills and even had enough to share with others.
Even as Peter wonderingly trudged towards the sea with his fishing pole in hand, the fish with a coin in its mouth was already there, waiting for him to just cast the line. And back on that January morning, even as I was looking at our budget with despair, God’s provision was already made and on the way. Take heart! Faithfully do today what God has called you to do, stewarding well whatever resources He gives, and then trust Him to provide what you need.
“A life of faith does two things: Faith helps you see God behind everything that He uses. And faith also keeps you in a place where you are not sure what will happen next...God wants you to trust Him alone from minute to minute. The strength He gives you in one minute is not intended to carry you through the next.
Let God take care of His business. Just be faithful to what God asks of you…
Eat in peace what God gives you. ‘Tomorrow will take care of itself.’ (Matthew 6:34) The One who feeds you today will surely feed you tomorrow.” —Francois de Fenelon