Summary: A study of Jesus’ answers to the Jewish leaders on whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar.
Between Two Worlds: Our Civil & Spiritual Responsibilities Luke 20:20-26
Some wise wag said, “While there are just two certainties in life: death and taxes, at least death doesn’t get worse every time Congress is in session!”
A man on vacation was strolling along outside his hotel in Acapulco, enjoying the sunny Mexican weather. Suddenly, he was attracted by the screams of a woman kneeling in front of a child. The man knew enough Spanish to determine that the boy had swallowed a coin. Seizing the child by the heels, the man held him up, gave him a few shakes, and an American quarter dropped to the sidewalk. “Oh, thank you sir!” cried the woman. “You seemed to know just how to get it out of him. Are you a doctor?” “No, ma’am,” replied the man. “I’m with the United States Internal Revenue Service.”
According to Peter Ferrara, general counsel for AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM, “Federal, state, and local taxes consume about 40 percent of the income of the average family. That is more than the average family spends on food, clothing, and shelter combined.” It didn’t used to be this way. The first federal income tax in 1913 demanded what today sounds like pocket change–about $50 per family. And that’s in 1990 dollars. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise that anything that can demand 40 percent of what you earn can also affect the way you live–and that’s certainly true of our tax system. For starters, taxes play an important role in decisions of whether both parents should hold outside jobs. Because of taxes, some families find it necessary for both parents to work outside the home simply to compensate for income lost to taxes. But even those families that sacrifice the mother’s paycheck so she can stay home with the kids still hear the taxman’s “Gotcha!” They discover on tax day that the federal child-care credit gives a tax break only to parents who pay for childcare. There’s no break for parents who raise their own kids. So, the tax policy creates an incentive for daycare. There are other perverse incentives as well. Under the Internal Revenue Code, couples who simply live together actually pay less taxes than those couples who get married. Last summer, Congress tried to eliminate this penalty as part of a larger tax bill. The President, however, unfortunately vetoed it. Our tax code expresses a value system of our government: In addition to the unspoken assumption that people work to support the government, the Code is indifferent, if not hostile, to the family. It penalizes couples for having children. It penalizes them again if they leave the workforce to raise their children. And, it also punishes people for getting married.
With a tax system that is intrusive, is it any wonder that many believers are asking, “Should a believer pay taxes – particularly to a system that is so anti-biblical and anti-God?” This question though is not new. Jesus’ enemies asked Him virtually the same question some 2000 years ago.
Paying taxes has never been popular. Taxes are not a donation nor are they a voluntary contribution. Failing to pay them or paying less than you’re supposed to is also a sure way to get the government’s attention. You’ll quickly learn how strongly the government feels about the payment of taxes.
This dialogue from Luke 20 about taxes is very important. It was recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Dr. William Willimon captures the spirit of the conversation well, he points out that this was man’s question of Jesus, not Jesus’ question of us – we’re the ones who are consumed with politics and political questions...just look at the newspapers, listen to the nightly news.
Most studies of this question focus primarily on Jesus’ wonderful answer. This morning though as we consider our dilemma of being Between Two Worlds: Our Civil & Spiritual Responsibilities, we want to focus on the whole conversation and exchange. To me, there is much more here than just Jesus’ answer. There are many Lessons for us contained in this dialogue.
1. Lesson #1: Sometimes truth comes from the most unlikely sources. On March 30th of 1981 when then President Ronald Reagan was shot in the left side of his chest by a deranged John Hinckley Jr., Reagan was rushed to George Washington University Hospital. When one of the doctors told the President that they were going to operate on him, Reagan, with his characteristic wit quipped, “I hope you’re a Republican.” To which the surgeon replied, “Today, Mr. President, we’re all Republicans.”
If I had a heart attack or got cancer, I really don’t care if my doctor is a Buddhist a Hindu or even a Communist. I do care though that he or she is the best doctor that I can get. Over my life time I’ve watched a fallacy develop in the church which is completely foreign to the NT and is also anti-Pauline. This erroneous thinking is that if something is not said or taught or practiced by a Christian, then it is false or at the very least, suspect.