WHAT ABOUT TAXES

WHAT ABOUT TAXES

Matthew 22:15-22

Let’s re-cap what’s going on in the Gospel reading today.

There is a political ploy going on here. The Pharisees want to have Jesus say something that will incriminate him. The Herodians are also interested in getting Jesus in trouble. So they send an envoy to ask him questions. It appears the question is about money and tax. However, they don’t care about the temple tax or any other tax, they are only interested in keeping power over the people.

The front for their true motives is their question about tax; “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” You might pause here and consider what answers they were expecting. Is in not an open question, but a closed one – either yes, it is lawful or no, it is not. Perhaps the answers the Pharisees and Herodians are hoping for are either (a) ‘Don’t pay the tax, or (b) ‘God wants you to pay the tax.’

Let’s try and get into the mindset of the Pharisees and the Herodians, Jesus’ enemies, and understand what was behind their attitude toward paying the imperial tax. The Herodians were supporters of King Herod and friends of Rome and the Pharisees simply did not like Jesus. With their question, they thought they had Jesus cornered. If he said, “Don’t pay the imperial tax” the Romans would soon declare him an outlaw and the Pharisees would soon be rid of Jesus without even getting their hands dirty. If Jesus said “Yes, pay the imperial tax,” the Jews would rise up and kill him, another win for Jesus’ enemies without getting their hands dirty.

Jesus knows what these men are thinking and that they were trying to trick him. Jesus knows what we all are thinking: we can’t hide our thoughts from God. He knows the thoughts that are sinful and the thoughts that are good, so when we confess our sins it shouldn’t just be the actions that we confess but the ‘thoughts, words and deeds’.

Let’s clarify here – the source of our sins is our fallen, corrupted, sinful nature, that leads to our sinful thoughts, words and deeds. Because God knows and sees this nature and our thoughts, words and deeds, we should confess all of them to Him and receive his forgiveness for nothing is hidden from Him.

Back to Jesus’ answer. First he gives the interrogators an object lesson – he has someone take a coin and ask them to tell him what’s on it. Much like if I took an Australian coin, I could show you whose head was on the coin. The head on the coin demonstrates that this person has authority to print the money. Next Jesus gives the directive relating to the object lesson: ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ This should leave us asking ‘What things belong to Caesar?’ and ‘What things belong to God?’.

Perhaps a discussion on the first article of the creed is useful here.

“I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

2 What does this mean?

   Answer: I believe that God has created me and all that exists; that he has given me and still sustains my body and soul, all my limbs and senses, my reason and all the faculties of my mind, together with food and clothing, house and home, family and property; that he provides me daily and abundantly with all the necessities of life, protects me from all danger, and preserves me from all evil. All this he does out of his pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness on my part. For all of this I am bound to thank, praise, serve, and obey him. This is most certainly true. [1]

Here we learn that everything we have belongs to God. Even the things ‘we’ don’t have belong to God. All of the created order is a possession of the creator. Even the government is under God’s authority. Therefore we can say that whatever belongs to Caesar also belongs to God! Yet Caesar does have some autonomy. While we acknowledge all his authority comes from God, the government has freedom to makes laws and behave outside of what God has commanded. Its not good for us, but they can and will do it.

The important point for us in the first article of the creed is that God the creator has all dominion and power. That is the point Jesus was trying to make regarding the imperial tax. The same point Jesus made to Pilate at his trial; “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” John 19:11 (ESV).

This is the same sentiment we sing in the hymn “We Give Thee but Thine Own” LHS 372:

We give Thee but Thine own,

Whate’er the gift may be;

All that we have is Thine alone,

A trust, O Lord, from Thee.

 

All our conversations and considerations regarding money and possessions must be guided by this fact. Everything we have, ‘ourselves our time and our possessions’ are gifts from God. They don’t belong to us, as if we are completely free to do with them as we wish, they are given to us to use in serving others and thereby serving God.

Therefore if you want to make this text about whether it is right or wrong to pay tax, just apply this principle: has God given you a government in authority over you? Do they command you to pay tax? If so, pay the tax they have commanded. Does this government also give you the ability to direct your monies elsewhere and pay less tax? If so, use this gift of the government to serve your neighbour.

If you would like to make this text about whether you should give offerings to God, use the same principle – everything you have is given from God, therefore you are free to utilise what is given you to serve others, especially His church, as all the Apostles tell us in their sermons and letters.

God uses the gift of authority and government to protect us and to care for our neighbour. He uses the gift of the church to proclaim his word, that shows us our sin and releases us from that sin by his forgiveness won by Jesus Christ our saviour on the cross.

Let us take his words as they are, a gift from God, and being set free by the forgiveness they deliver to us, serve our neighbour with all the gifts God has given us.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

This message from Pastor Tim Stringer is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas.  For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]  A Pass it On Project ,  You can read more at  lca.org

[1] Tappert, T.G. ed., 1959. The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church., Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.