Death and Taxes…
Well, usually today would be Tax Day! Or, depending on the day of the week, the District of Columbia celebrates Emancipation Day, a legal holiday in D.C., on April 16th and this sometimes creates a delay so that our income taxes are not do until April 17th or even April 18th. But this year, based on several factors, including the pandemic, we have a reprieve for another month or so – income taxes this year are due on May 17th, more than a month beyond the normal tax filing deadline.
In fact, we often quote the adage that nothing is certain except death and taxes. And while it is certain that we will still eventually pay our taxes this year, it won’t have to be for another month or so.
The beginning of the tax system goes back thousands of years. To be sure, taking care of a country’s infrastructure as well as the payroll of its government workers is not an inexpensive proposition – and this has been the case since the Roman times during the reign of Caesar. Of course, there were also military expenses as Rome was trying to expand across the world and build their empire, much as we are trying to keep peace in the world and fight terrorism today.
A number of years ago, a couple that I assisted in career transition as they moved to the Indianapolis area gave me a coin that had been minted back at the time of Jesus. I knew about the coins of the Roman empire, but I had never actually seen one in person. Most of the coins were irregular in shape and the gift I received was no exception. In fact, it is smaller than I imagined it would be and I still have it in the little cellophane and cardboard container that it was stored in when it was presented to me.
For a while, I thought about actually carrying the coin in my pocket but I found that I got the most enjoyment from keeping it in my center desk drawer as a reminder. But what about the history of the coin? Certainly, we can go back in time and realize that one of the traps that was set for Jesus had to do with Caesar and whether taxes should be paid to Caesar or not. At the time, Caesar thought of himself as the Sovereign as well as lord. He was, in his own mind, beyond reproach and on a par, if not superior, to Jesus. He was considered a god.
Of course, Christians of the day didn’t agree with this. It was Jesus who was their Lord and Savior. But this created a problem for the Pharisees. They were always looking for ways to trap Jesus and the disciples to make their case. Jesus was not about to be caught up in their conspiracy. Whether it had to do with healing on the Sabbath or gleaning in the fields to feed the disciples, the Pharisees were quick to accuse Jesus and were far more interested in the letter of the Law as opposed to the intent of the Law.
That’s one of the problems with the Old Testament. It was there to prove that people couldn’t live sinless lives but the Pharisees made a habit of acting pious and being very judgmental when it came to others. They were quick to show how much they gave at the Temple and rarely looked beyond their own narrow view of what worship should look like.
Tonight’s verse highlights one of the traps that the Pharisees set for Jesus. This particular dilemma had to do with whether or not it was right for people to pay taxes to Caesar. I always think of this verse as we approach tax day.
Matthew, the tax collector and one of the apostles, tells us the story of the Pharisees in Matthew 22:17-21, “Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
My encouragement this evening is that the whole idea of governments, judges and the systems that have been in place to govern throughout the years were God’s idea. Therefore, we are to honor our elected leaders, regardless of which political party we personally belong to. My prayer is that our country can try to start the healing process and that with all we have been through as a nation, we can still turn to Jesus and ask that He guide us through these troubling times. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…