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Monday, 3 November 2014

St. Peter's Fish

Our fish ready to go back to church
   An orange fish with a coin slot at the top "lived" at my house for two weeks.  It was part of a North American campaign for the Christian Reformed Church that has been raising funds to relieve world hunger since 1979.  We were encouraged to fill it up and return it to church on November 2nd.  Cheques and bills were also welcome but in envelopes rather than in the coin bank.
   As we read specially written devotions around the table with our children, the question came up, "How did the idea of Peter Fish come to be associated with this world hunger offering?" Nineteen years ago the plastic fish banks were introduced to add something visual and fun to this worthy "World Hunger Offering."  Along with the fish was the Chinese proverb, "If you give someone a fish, they eat for a day.  If you teach them to fish, they'll eat for a lifetime."  The philosophy of this world hunger program has always been more about equipping people to grow their own food than it has been about hand-outs.
   But there is a further connection between money and "Peter Fish" that gave me pause to think this past week.  In an obscure passage in Matthew 17: 24-27, Jesus told Peter to go out and catch a fish so that they could pay the temple tax that was required of them.  It was not so that Peter could sell the fish, as he had would have done in his career as a fisherman.  Instead, the fish he caught had a four drachma coin in its mouth, the exact amount needed to pay the tax.  According to a book entitled Customs and Manners of Bible Times (1987) by Ralph Gower, the type of fish Peter caught is known as a tilapa fish or nicknamed "St. Peter's Fish."  It has the curious behaviour of carrying its eggs and later the hatchlings in its mouth. As the fish grow, the babies will venture out but still return to the safety of the mother's mouth.  However, when the mother fish wants to keep the young from coming back into her mouth, she picks up an object (preferably a bright one) [1] to indicate "no room."
   Some may say that knowing this information about the tilapa fish makes the whole story of Peter's finding the coin in its mouth less miraculous.  For me, it tells me something about the foresight of God.  Knowing from all eternity that Peter and Jesus would need this particular coin, he designed a type of fish to live in the Sea of Galilee that would be inclined to find and hold a bright object in its mouth. The original creation had no currency or coinage, but God knew that people would use the metallic resources in the earth to stamp into things of value that we would exchange for goods and services.  Not only that, God provided for our family in such a way that we could fill two fish and also write a cheque to help meet a great need in our world.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

[1] Gower, page 131.

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