In today’s gospel (Mt 17:22-27), Peter and Jesus are approached by the collectors of the temple tax (“the annual contribution every Jew has to make for the upkeep of the temple” [The Navarre Bible: St Matthew, 2e, (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1991), 159]), asking the Lord and the leader of the apostles why they don’t pay this tax. Jesus argues against the need to do so (He is the Son of God, after all, not a foreigner), but in order to avoid offense (to those who don’t realize His true Personhood), He instructs the son of Jonah on how to go about paying the collectors.
Peter was certainly a good fisherman — it is how he used to make his living. But why have him go through this rather elaborate and time-consuming process to make a simple payment? It is not an insignificant amount, but Judas most certainly would have been able to provide from their common purse the amount to fulfill the payment (even though he was dipping and would have been reluctant to part with it). So what’s going on?
Leiva-Merikakis, in his massive three volume commentary on Matthew (a must-have for scholars and lovers of Matthew), provides this spiritual (analogical) insight:
In this episode, at the level of its deepest symbolism, we have seen Jesus instructing Peter, his chief apostle, on the dynamics of the Paschal Mystery in a new and surprising manner. Peter is to go to the Sea of Galilee — the place of danger and death — and, with the hook of his obedient faith, catch from the turbulent waters of the Passion the “first fish that comes up [άναβάγντα]” in Resurrection: the great ΙΧΘΥΣ ([Ichthys or “fish” in Greek whose letters are an acronym for] “Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior”), “the first to rise from the dead” (Acts 26:23), who brings in his blessed mouth, source of absolute truth, the precious gift of salvation and the joy of participating with him in God’s very life of freedom and love. (Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, Volume II (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 600)