Most years, our federal income taxes are due on April 15th. But when the 15th falls on a Sunday, the deadline becomes Monday, April 16th. But this year, taxes aren’t due until Tuesday, April 17th. What gives? There’s an unusual answer – Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C. happened today. Through an obscure note in the law, when Washington, D.C. has a local holiday, as occurs this year, the federal tax deadline is delayed one day. So, we get a two day reprieve from the 15th. More than 98 million taxpayers have already filed their taxes so the government doesn’t expect as much of a last minute rush as in other years.
Emancipation Day is a holiday that most Americans are not familiar with. In short, it is the commemoration of April 16, 1862 – the day that President Abraham Lincoln freed 3100 slaves in the District of Columbia, making Washington, D.C. the first place in the United States to outlaw slavery. In 2005, the day was made a holiday and this year marks the 150th anniversary of the emancipation of the slaves in D.C. In fact, there is a year long celebration in the area remembering the act declared by Lincoln.
April 17th also marks another day that some Americans celebrate. It is called Tax Freedom Day. In other words, it is the day of the year that Americans must theoretically work until to pay their taxes for the current year. After the 17th, money earned during the year will remain with each worker, as the tax burden for the nation will have been satisfied for the year. This year, it is computed that each American will have to work 107 days to pay the 29.2% tax burden that is representative for the average American. FYI, this is 4 days longer than we had to work last year to pay the nation’s annual tax burden.
So no matter how you slice it, these several days all have to do with the taxes we owe to run the federal and state governments. And more and more, we are losing tax payments to the government through the increased problem of cheating. It is estimated that people are paying only 85% of the taxes they owe and during the last 10 years, more than 3 trillion has been lost in non-collected taxes.
It’s no secret that as long as there have been taxes, there has been tax avoidance. We even see evidence of this back in the Bible. A story is told in Luke about a wealthy tax collector named Zacchaeus. We are told that he was a short man and wanted to see what all the commotion was about as Jesus was entering the city. He ran ahead and climbed up in a fig tree. As Jesus passed by, He called to Zacchaeus to come down out of the tree. Jesus ended up having dinner at the house of Zacchaeus and of course, this angered many of the Jewish scholars, teachers and rabbis who did not think that Jesus should be dining with an obvious sinner.
Zacchaeus repented and gave half of his wealth to the poor; further claiming that he would make restitution of 4 to 1 should he be found guilty of cheating anyone. It was a real turning point in his life. Another time, Jesus was asked about whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. He asked whose picture was on a coin, and ended up giving us one of the most memorable quotes in the Bible, from Matt 22:21, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s; and render unto God what is God’s.”
That’s kind of what this week is all about, isn’t it? The truth of the matter is that God instituted the idea of governments. Furthermore, we are to honor and follow our elected leaders.
So my encouragement this evening is to let you know that we have a system in place to allow us to elect those people who will represent us – in accordance with the desire of God for His world. If we don’t like someone’s performance, we have the God given right to replace that person through the use of the ballot box. That’s all there is to it. My prayer is that no matter who you support, you will endorse the idea to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. After all, as a whole, we put the Caesars in office.
Maybe, through increased diligence, we won’t have to work so long next year to reach Tax Freedom Day. After all, back in 1900, taxes were only 5.9% of our income and we only had to work until January 22 to get our taxes paid. In the meantime, grace and peace…