Thursday, February 23, 2017

Paying Taxes

Mark 12:13-17

“And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words.  And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?  Shall we give, or shall we not give?” (Mark 12:13-15a)

Frustrated that they had had to give up their challenge of Jesus authority, and resenting his warning that they were doing wrong, the religious leaders selected some of their top debaters, from both the Herodians and the Pharisees to debate Jesus and discredit him.  The Pharisees were focused on Jewish law and custom, while the Herodians would be focused on Roman Law.  The hope was that between them they could get Jesus to say something that one side or the other could use against him. 

After making a special effort to flatter him in hopes of catching him off guard, they asked whether the law required them to pay taxes to Rome or not.  It was a loaded question, because if he said yes, the Pharisees could point out that in fact the law said wrote only about giving to God and make him appear ignorant to the crowd.  If he said no, the Herodians could accuse him of breaking Roman law and stirring up trouble with Rome.  Either way, they could turn the people against him. 

“But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.  And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

And they said unto him, Caesar's.

And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.” (Mark 12:15b-17)

Jesus knew they were just trying to trap him and really didn’t care about the truth, despite their statements.  Instead of answering the question directly, he asked them to show him a coin.  When they did, he asked whose picture was on it and whose name was on it.  They said it was the Roman rulers.  Jesus said since it had his name and picture it obviously belonged to Caesar, and they should give it to him.  If it belonged to god they should give it to God.  They should pay both the tithe and their taxes.  Failure to do either one was in effect stealing. 

For years, the Jews had argued that they should not be taxed because they paid tithes to the support the temple and their leaders, so the Roman government did not have to support them.  The Roman government didn’t count the tithe as part fo their taxes.   They expected Jesus to take one side of the other.   His answer was totally unexpected, and left neither side any grounds for argument. 

The issue is still debated, and Paul addressed it in Romans 13:6-7.  “For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.  Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.”    While I appreciate the privilege of receiving a deduction for donations to a church, the entire non-profit system needs to be reformed to eliminate serious abuses.  

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