After they arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Your teacher pays the double drachma tax, doesn’t he?” He said, “Yes.” When Peter came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do earthly kings collect tolls or taxes—from their sons or from foreigners?” After he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. But so that we don’t offend them, go to the lake and throw out a hook. Take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth, you will find a four drachma coin. Take that and give it to them for me and you.”
—Matthew 17:24–27 (NET)
“Jesus is watching.” I remember hearing that warning from teachers during middle school, whenever we were about to be given a bit of freedom. They were telling us there’s no such thing as private sin. Jesus can always see what you’re doing, even if no one else is around.
It’s true, of course. But that short statement helped to carve an image of Jesus in my mind—one in which He’s always sitting in judgment, waiting for me to screw up. That Jesus never cracked a smile, which was especially difficult for me because, growing up, I liked nothing more than to make my friends laugh. But whenever I did, I imagined Jesus, sitting on His throne in heaven, shaking his head back and forth in disgust.
We all have those bits and pieces from childhood that form a picture of God in our minds. Often, it comes from the relationship we had with our parents. A stern and rigid father leads to thoughts of a cranky God. A distant and absent mother conjures an uncaring Creator. But whenever we make those faulty connections, we’re shortchanging the God of the Bible. If we want to know what God is like, He tells us precisely what to do: look to Jesus. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), Paul wrote. And before that, Jesus Himself said, “The person who has seen me has seen the Father!” (John 14:9). We have four accounts to help us understand who the Son is—four Gospels to paint a beautiful picture.
Most people think of Jesus as loving and forgiving, someone who was kind to small children and animals. We know He could get angry, flipping over the tables of the money changers and chasing those con-artists out of the temple (John 2:13–17). But have you ever thought of Jesus as silly?
Consider this episode: One time, to pay their taxes, Jesus told His disciple Peter to go fishing. He told him to let out his line and that the first fish he caught would have a four-drachma coin in its mouth—exactly the amount He and Peter needed to get square with the tax collectors. Incredible, right?
Now, on the surface, this is just another story illustrating Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Who else would have the power to direct a fish to swallow exact change and then bite on just the right fishing line? But think about it this way—what kind of person would think of doing things that way? Someone silly.
In my mind’s eye, I can see Peter, the gruff fisherman, pulling the coin from the fish’s mouth as that fish flips and flops in his hands, spraying water in his face. And I can imagine Jesus laughing at the thought, too.
“He is the playfulness of creation, scandal and utter goodness, the generosity of the ocean and the ferocity of a thunderstorm; he is cunning as a snake and gentle as a whisper; the gladness of sunshine and the humility of a thirty-mile walk by foot on a dirt road.”