Perhaps one of the most dangerous lies in American culture lurks around the pretense of internal strength. Phrases like “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” and “self-made woman” ignite confidence and pride. But peek behind the curtain of self-sufficiency and we find needy people pretending to have it all together. All humans, despite our best efforts to convince ourselves and others that we can do it on our own, need the Lord, his provision, and his people. As we see in today’s passages, need does not make us weak. It makes us dependent on the provider of all good things.
In Matthew 17, need arose out of a desire to avoid offending others. Jesus should have been exempt from the temple tax for two reasons: 1) He was a rabbi and rabbis paid no taxes, and 2) He was the Son of God, and sons get a pass too. But he told Peter to pay the tax so they wouldn’t unnecessarily offend the Jewish leaders. The tax, a half shekel, cost both Peter and Jesus two days’ wages. Since Jesus left behind his carpenter days to begin his itinerant ministry and Peter dumped his fishing nets to follow him, these two men found themselves in immediate need of four days’ wages.
Fast-forward to John 21, and Peter again finds himself in need. After the crucifixion and resurrection, but before their great commissioning to build the church, the disciples found themselves unsure of what to do next. Maybe out of financial need or simply to pass the time, Peter and several other disciples returned to their fishing profession. After a full night of fishing, their nets remained empty. Again, successful fishermen could grit their teeth and attempt to pull themselves up by their own sandal-straps or they could admit their need. Even professionals need help.