A man was talking to his tax inspector. The inspector tells him that as a citizen he is obliged to pay taxes and he is expected to pay them with a smile. The man replies, “Oh that is a relief, I thought you were going to ask me to pay them in cash.”
Personally, I don’t mind paying tax. I believe that every child should be educated, I believe that we should have an NHS, I know it costs money and I give it gladly. But how would I feel if I lived in an occupied country… How would I feel if I knew that the tax-collectors were ton the take? How would I feel about a Caesar living in splendour at my expense? I think I would feel differently about paying my taxes then. They would be a symbol of my occupation, they would be a violation upon all the other violations that I experienced.
The Pharisees disliked the taxes – they were against the Roman Occupation and whilst not as extreme as the Zealots at the time, they saw those who were happy to pay taxes as those who had sold out to Rome. The Herodians thought you should pay taxes and work with Rome rather than against it. If the peace was kept then then life would be easier – best not to rock the boat. It seems though, that the two groups, even though they hated each other, had banded together to quiz Jesus – ask him an impossible question – or at least a question that would make some of the crowd hate him.
“Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
Oh I hate the question – I hate the trap – if Jesus says ‘yes’ then he is advocating compliance with the hated Romans… if Jesus says ‘no’ then he is advocating civil disobedience.
But worse than that I hate that the question is so slimy, that the person asking it is being so disingenuous. I don’t want Jesus to engage with it – I don’t want him to find clever put-downs and word plays – I don’t want him to sink to their level. I want Jesus to be above all that.
“Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.”
At least Jesus calls them hypocrites, exposes them for what they are. I love it when people speak plainly – gossip and slander and lies and hypocrisy multiply in the darkness, but they cannot survive in the light.
“Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Does this mean that Jesus is separating the sacred and the secular? I don’t think so. When Jesus says “Give to God the things that are God’s” then the question is “what isn’t Gods?” It reminds me of that joke where the scientists are telling God that they can do without God now and they can create humans like God can. They challenge God to a competition and then they collect some dust to repeat what God did with Adam and God says “Stop! Get your own dust!”
Everything is God’s.
But the Bible talks a lot about money and how the love of it is bad for you.
There is a story about John D. Rockefeller, Sr, who worked very hard to be a success. He became a millionaire by this age of twenty-three and by the age of fifty was the richest man on earth. In his 50s Rockefeller suffered from moderate depression and digestive troubles and developed alopecia, a condition that causes the loss of some or all body hair. By 1901 he did not have a hair on his body, and he began wearing wigs. He could only digest milk and crackers and doctors thought that he would die.
Now, from his very first pay check he tithed – he gave a tenth to the church. But on becoming ill he realised that his great wealth couldn’t help him and he couldn’t take his money with him. So he established the Rockefeller Foundation, he channelled his fortune into education, hospitals, research, and mission work. His contributions eventually led to cures for hookworm, yellow fever and other diseases.
By altering his life so dramatically, he eventually lived to the ripe old age of ninety-seven.
For some the worship of money and possessions can be a profound and deadly spiritual problem. The more we have, the less are able to give. The more things we own, the greater the temptation to allow things to own us.
I heard about a study recently that was focussed on lonely people. Apparently, if we are lonely we tend to watch more television and that can lead to depression. Why? Well because the adverts are constantly telling us to be dissatisfied with our lives – we aren’t sexy enough, thin enough, beautiful enough, young enough or popular enough. But if we buy the product then we will be. Moreover the television programmes also encourage us to buy into the materialistic culture – we should buy a castle in Scotland and do it up, we should go into our attics and discover a fortune, we should go into the dragons den and pitch our idea, we should be an apprentice and over perform. Money, money, money.
It make us sad, it gives us little hope.
I believe Jesus is telling us to pay our dues, pay our taxes and just be done with it.
But more importantly, the thing we should be focussing on is whether we are giving to God what we should, yes our money, but also ourselves, our hopes, our dreams, our trust, the whole of our lives.
And the weird thing is that when we give ourselves to God, we find that we had more than we had in the first place. God is in debt to no one.
Today we are collecting the TTT pledges. A token of our desires to put God first in our lives, to trust God and to give our time, talents and ten-pound notes in gratitude for all that God has given to us.