Reflecting on Matthew 17:24-27, The Message:
When they arrived at Capernaum, the tax men came to Peter and asked, “Does your teacher pay taxes?”
Peter said, “Of course.”
But as soon as they were in the house, Jesus confronted him. “Simon, what do you think? When a king levies taxes, who pays—his children or his subjects?”
He answered, “His subjects.”
Jesus said, “Then the children get off free, right? But so we don’t upset them needlessly, go down to the lake, cast a hook, and pull in the first fish that bites. Open its mouth and you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to the tax men. It will be enough for both of us.”
Children of the King
The Gospel of Matthew (17:24-27) tells us a story around an ancient Jewish practice related to money. Males above the age of twenty were required to pay an annual temple tax. In Jesus’ day this tax was equivalent to two days’ wages and was used to maintain the Jewish temple. The temple tax collectors came to Peter in the hopes of trapping Jesus. They asked Peter if his teacher Jesus pays the temple tax. This is a double bind question. If Peter answers that Jesus does not pay the tax, he reveals that Jesus had incorrectly elevated himself among the kings and priests of this world who were not subject to the tax. If he answers yes, Peter negates what he knows of the power of Jesus’ ministry and as a rabbi with the God-given authority to reinterpret the law for his people (Matthew 5:17). Choosing the option that would appease his questioners, Peter replies yes and then talks to Jesus of his distressing encounter.
Jesus, operating in a completely different paradigm than the tax collectors, helps Peter reframe that confrontational moment when the tax collectors tried to trap both of them. In the story that follows, Jesus tells Peter to go fish and that he’d find a gold coin in the fish’s mouth. With that gold coin, Peter was to then pay the tax to the officials for both of them. Jesus implies that both he and Peter are exempt from this tax as “children of the King.” Of course, what Jesus is doing is playing with double entendre of who the true King is and who has true authority. This coin in the fish’s mouth is Jesus’ way of subverting the economic system and status quo of the day while still participating fully in it.
How this “gold coin” changed my sight
This Gospel story is giving me a new frame to shift from my need for certitude as a result of years in business. I find myself moving toward an emerging paradigm of gratitude, compassion and openness. The fish story Jesus tells about a gold coin has a lot to do with our W&M vision.
As we enter the dog-days of summer, I recall the vision that our board and staff saw for W&M in 2022 when we set the budget to carry out our work of expanding the staff team to serve our growing community beyond Steven’s retirement.
One of the practices that distinguishes W&M is that our board and staff are immersed in the same practices as members of our community. One part of our job as staff is to walk our talk. A practice I’ve been reflecting on is what it means to live in the flow of gift, in the flow of Spirit, in financial transparency. In June, I sent our W&M network a letter inviting financial gifts in honor of Steven’s retirement. As part of that invitation, it felt important to me to participate in the invitation too, lest I be inviting others to do what I was unwilling or choosing not to do. I considered my usual giving pattern based on my years as a business owner/business consultant. I typically make gifts at the end of year based on the expenses and profit of my business. I began to see that I was bonded to this “best practice!” Our mid-year campaign challenged my unconscious adherence to that practice.
Like Peter, I experienced my own paradigm shift. I received an invitation to give mid-year. In ruminating on the question of what is enough, I remembered that in fact I had gained an unexpected “bonus” client in March and that my business is projected to generate more than I need this year. I now see that I had a shift of perspective—I realized that my end of year giving practice was more grounded in retaining profit “just-in-case.”
This choice to save money “just-in-case” had the unintended consequence of closing myself off to the flow of Spirit. I had been applying the “best practices” of being CFO of my own life (a rather good one I must admit). As CFO of my life, though, my vision was so nearsighted that I was unable to see gold coins in the mouth of fish! And, most importantly, that I am a child of The King.
So I made a mid-year gift to honor Steven and to support our W&M vision. Mid-year! I had changed my unconscious commitment! Here’s where the art of Spirit comes in: not only did I feel led to give “out of cycle” for me, but my shift in perspective came only after my decision to give. I am reminded that “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking” (Richard Rohr).
So my new perspective allows me to see gold coins in surprising places mid-year and elsewhere. I find myself filled with the perspective of our glass half-full and leaning into our vision with gratitude as I see the variety of gifts that are flowing toward Wisdom & Money this summer.
In this campaign, we set out to raise $150,000 in gifts. Here is how our vision is coming to life through your gifts: To date, we have received $124,408 in gifts and pledges in honor of Steven! Of that, $54,408 were from new donors or increased gifts from current donors. Since June, ten new donors have stepped in, each with a clear yes to support our work. Finally, three additional donors will be giving new gifts of unknown size later this year, while others continue discerning their gifts in response to our mid-year invitation. This season has also welcomed increased participation on our monthly Spiritual Practice & Conversation Calls and in our 1:1 Spiritual Companionship offering.