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Posts Tagged ‘tax’

Each time I send in my quarterly taxes I can hear the Beatles singing in the background. “If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street, If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat. If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat, If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet. Don’t ask me what I want it for, If you don’t want to pay some more. Cause I’m the taxman…” It makes me want to cast my line in the lake and hope to catch a fish with the coin I need in its mouth.

At the same time, I hear a question asked Jesus “Do we pay taxes or not?” This reminds us that politics were alive and well in first century Palestine. The fact that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this episode reminds us that the gospels have an interest in politics as well. And Jesus was right in on the political discussion. This is good for us to be reminded of. Especially those of us who want to believe religion is private and separate from politics and that Jesus only talks about spiritual things.

Considering the song his mother sings during her pregnancy, I suspect her lullabies may have been a little political as well. If that is the case then it is no surprise that when Jesus began ministry he began with a political announcement. A new kingdom is here!

The context we are given for Jesus birth is Caesar’s decree. At his death he is charged as a rival king. And then in between he is asked the question “Do we pay taxes or not?” There is simply no way to avoid the idea that to follow Jesus puts us in a political story.

Caesar has coins stamped in his image. Jesus asks for one of these and says something along the line of “Caesar can stamp his image on as many of these as he desires. But do not let Caesar stamp his image on you. You do not belong to Caesar.” Jesus wants to be sure we do not confuse God with Caesar. We are in a political story. And following Jesus complicates politics.

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April is nearly over.  In the middle of the month I hesitantly sent off a check to the United States Treasury.  As frustrating as that was, I pay taxes all the time.  I fill up with gasoline at 379.9 a gallon, much of it taxes.  We go out to eat for my mom’s birthday, six percent is tax.  Every check stub reveals that I am paying federal tax, city tax, state tax, social security tax, and other taxes that I am not able to identify.  I wonder if I should be grateful that someone graciously takes these taxes out automatically instead of making me go out on pay day to pay each of these taxes in person.

I am reminded that Jesus was once asked about taxes.  “Is it permissible to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?  Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?”  We know his response, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

What is interesting about this episode of Mark’s Gospel is that no one really seems very interested in taxes.  The questioners hope to trap Jesus that they might be able to raise suspicions about him.  If only the authorities could have him arrested or the multitudes would turn on him.

On the other hand, Jesus seems to suggest that there are bigger things to worry about.  Things, like taxes, that are of such importance to Caesar that he puts his likeness on it and demands it back as payment are not of the same importance to Jesus.  He doesn’t even carry the stuff (as implied by the fact he had to ask for one).

Jesus seems clear that Caesar can have this stuff.  But he seems equally clear that we must not be caught giving away the big stuff.  Do not give away anything that matters, no matter who is asking for it.  Do not give away anything that belongs to God.

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