It’s tax season again. Let’s see a show of hands. How many of you really love paying taxes? Hmmm. I’m not seeing many hands. The frustrating thing about preparing and paying taxes for many people is how much time it takes to prepare the taxes and the different advice you get on the taxes. If you call the IRS offices and they tell you what to do and you listen to them, and they’re wrong…you pay the penalty. And after a year of having money taken out of your paycheck for taxes, many of us end up paying another big chunk. And, what those taxes pay for! Have you ever wanted to deduct a percentage of your taxes and let the IRS know that you are deducting it because you don’t like the government’s actions? Welcome to the club.
That club goes back a long way. There was a chapter in the days of Jesus. Some of the Pharisees strongly objected to the idea of paying taxes to Caesar. The Herodians, however, supported the state and didn’t have problems with paying taxes. As the religious leaders continued to try and trip Jesus up and drive a wedge between groups of His followers, the Pharisees and the Herodians combined to ask Him a question. Whichever side Jesus took was bound to upset some of His followers and drive them away. “’Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. He said to them, ‘Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’” (Luke 20:24-25)
We may marvel at the cleverness of Jesus. He stymied both groups of religious leaders and didn’t alienate His followers. At the same time, He approved of giving to God and of giving to the government through taxes. Now, that was bound to cause some problems for the people back then. The Romans were an oppressive government and the idea that the Jews should help fund that government was not a favorite of most of the people. Jesus recognized the reality. As oppressive as the government was, they did perform some functions that provided benefit to all people. It is incumbent upon the people of God to pay their taxes even when the government is oppressive. At the same time, it is incumbent upon the people of God to support the work of God. The government and the church have different functions and we as God’s people need to support both of those functions.
See what I did there? I moved the conversation to the present time. A lot of people don’t like to pay taxes for the same reason that the Jews didn’t. The government does things that are wrong. They are sometimes oppressive and I can’t agree with everything they do. The message of Jesus today would be to give to Washington, D.C. what belongs to Washington, D.C. He would also remind us to give to God’s work today. I believe that starts with my local church. There are things that the government does that provides benefits to all of us. We may grumble about some things the government does. You may be like me and think that the government does some things that the church does. (In truth, they do it because the church fell down on the job.) But taxes are how we pay for those functions of government. We should also support our local church. We have fellowship and worship there. We support the spreading of the gospel around the world. We work together on projects to help the poor and to share the love of Jesus with all people. Jesus’ words remind us that both government and the church have important functions in this world and our responsibility is to support those institutions through the finances that God gave us.
Oh Lord, how I wish You had told us not to pay taxes. But You said to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Help me to pay my taxes with a willing heart knowing that I’m obeying You.