What is your reaction when, unless you are simply on PAYE, you have to complete a tax return? How do you react when the Chancellor indicates, reasonably, that taxes will have to rise to pay for the huge costs of the Covid pandemic? Do you use an accountant to find, permissible and legal ways of reducing your tax bill?
We all hate paying taxes out of our hard-won income and it has always been thus. You will recall that Zacchaeus, whom Luke records had a life changing meeting with Jesus, was disliked by his fellow residents in Jericho, being seen as a cheat – which he was, and working for the hated Romans, which he did! Tax as a disliked burden is nothing new.
Today we look at Jesus’ response to the spies sent by the religious leaders in Jerusalem to try and catch him out in this controversial area. They came to him and in a smarmy way posed their question like this.
“Teacher we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” Luke 20 v.21
That was the smarmy bit then came the barbed question!
“Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Jesus however was wise to their scheming and threw the question back to them (incidentally this can be a good a good strategy when people challenge you about your faith and you want. them to think).
“Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?”
“Caesar’s they replied.
Jesus said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
I don’t want to discuss the rights and wrongs of the British Tax System today although we need to understand Jesus’ teaching on ‘giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But I do want us to consider the challenge of what it means to:
Give to God what is God’s.
I fear that we are in danger of putting limits round the meaning of that very simple word of Jesus. At the financial level – I have given my tithe. At the time level – I go to Church on the Lord’s Day. At the individual level – I have my life to live. And so we could go on.
As I reflected that this exchange with the religious leaders was at the beginning of the week in which Jesus was to give everything as he hung on the cruel cross, the final verse of Isaac Watts famous hymn ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’ came powerfully to mind.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far to small.
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Is that what I am giving to God?
After all he made me, I am his, made in his image, made to give glory to him. I actually owe him everything.
Am I giving to God what is God’s?