Spring is in the air and everyone’s thoughts turn to … taxes. Yep, that annual tradition so beloved by Americans of filling out our tax returns and sending them off so that we can make sure that we pay the taxes the government thinks we need to. Most of us have paid taxes throughout the year as the government takes it out of our checks. Many of us work to take every deduction we can, hoping that the government will return a portion of our taxes as a tax return – which means we paid the government too much and they are returning our interest free loan. Yes, the joyous tax season is upon us.
Ok, maybe it’s not so joyous. Maybe tax season for you involves throwing things at the wall and muttering about the government under your breath. Maybe it includes shouts of anger when you discover that you couldn’t take that deduction. Maybe you’re a tax protestor who refuses to pay any taxes. There are people like that, you know. They aren’t new. In fact, they have existed probably since taxes existed. The Pharisees used people like that to team up with the Herodians to try and trap Jesus. “Should we pay the Roman tax?” they asked, knowing that if Jesus said “yes” that many of the people would turn on Him, but a “no” answer could bring the wrath of the authorities. Jesus answered them as only He could. “Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:19-21)
This is a story that most of us have problems with. We probably do a pretty good job of giving to Caesar, as it were, because Caesar’s is taken out of our paychecks, or added to our bill at the store, or included in our house payment. We don’t get much choice about that. Probably, we give Caesar way more than we think Caesar deserves and we grumble about it, but we end up giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. In reality, the hardest part of this for most people is giving to God what’s God’s. Some of you may try to hide your checkbook when I say that, but many of you will protest that you pay your tithes. You could show me the same giving statement you have ready in case Caesar asks you questions about your deductions. Oh, if it were that easy to give to God what is God’s!
You may be puzzled then. “What am I withholding from God if I give my tithes and offerings?” If we’re talking about money, everything we have is God’s. A song I remember from my childhood was sung at church as the offering was presented says, “We give Thee but Thine own, whate’er the gift may be. All that we have is Thine alone, a gift, O God, from Thee.” Let’s face it, even though many of us don’t give enough money to God for a variety of reasons, that’s the easiest part about giving to God what’s God’s. Jesus talked about the Pharisees who were meticulous in tithing but didn’t understand that God wanted His people to give Him justice, mercy, and faith. We are such a materialistic society that when someone thinks of giving, we pull out our checkbook. God wants us to pull out our heart. We are called to work for justice – and if you have an understanding on justice in God’s economy, it usually means working to help the oppressed overcome their oppressors. We are called to show mercy to those who have wronged us and don’t deserve it, just like He showed us. We are called to show faith – to be an example of faith in a faithless world. So, when you give to God, pull out your checkbook and your heart to give Him all that you are.
O Lord, when I think of what You want from me, money would be so much easier to give. Help me to understand what it means to give to You by working for justice, showing mercy, and living in faith.