As if you needed anyone else to tell you: if you live in the U.S., your taxes are due! In an uncharacteristic fit of responsibility (I’m still not sure where it came from), I managed to get mine in order a few weeks ago. Fingers crossed that I didn’t mess them up too badly!
Whenever tax season rolls around, I think of three passages from the Gospels in which Jesus discusses money, wealth, and taxes. In the first passage, Jesus puts wealth in context in a way I’ve always found challenging. Read Matthew 6:24-27 (NLT):
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”
The second passage is one of the few that directly discusses taxes. It’s also one of the most fun stories in the Bible. Harried once again by religious leaders looking to make trouble, Jesus manages to teach a little lesson about being a citizen in the kingdom of God. Read Matthew 17:24-27 (NLT):
On their arrival in Capernaum, the collectors of the Temple tax came to Peter and asked him, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?”
“Yes, he does,” Peter replied. Then he went into the house.
But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Peter? Do kings tax their own people or the people they have conquered?”
“They tax the people they have conquered,” Peter replied.
“Well, then,” Jesus said, “the citizens are free! However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”
And lastly, read Jesus’ clever response to religious leaders who confronted him about taxes in Matthew 22:15-22 (NIV):
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax 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 image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
The specific contexts and taxes in these passages may be very different from the situations we face today, but Jesus’ teachings about the appropriate place of wealth in our lives and priorities remain as clear and relevant as ever.