Even Jesus faced two sure things in life: death and taxes
by Deacon Christine Maddux
Is there no end to this “new normal”? Due to COVID-19 and the ensuing stay-at-home orders, Easter passed a few days ago with the irrepressible joy of the day intact but with none of the typical celebrations. Now we find that even Tax Day is not the same this year: July 15 is the new April 15. While this is certainly welcome relief from the Treasury Department and the IRS, it underscores that our federal, state and county governments are calling the shots over daily life right now. Our customary freedoms are necessarily curtailed as government asserts itself while we all wage war on the virus. For now, Americans are called to live in the land of the less-free and the home of the more-brave. It is an uncomfortable shift, but one to which Jesus could relate.
The Bible is filled with stories of people living under various governmental regimes. There we see the only perfect government, dating back to the establishment of God’s Chosen People in Abraham’s day. Under that covenant, God reigned as the supreme authority, governing his people by his loving law (Genesis 17). All subsequent arrangements have suffered from imperfect or abusive leaders governing unruly or contentious citizens by flawed laws or edicts. No wonder the relationship between rulers and ruled is uneasy, at best! But it did not trouble Jesus, the rightful and eternal King, even as He was subject to governmental constraint from birth to death.
He was born in Bethlehem because his earthly parents obeyed Caesar Augustus’ census decree, untimely by human standards but in the perfect “fullness of time” by God’s redemptive plan (Matthew 2:5-6; Galatians 4:4). Shortly thereafter, the murderous edict of the maniacal King Herod caused Jesus’ family to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-18). On their return to Israel they settled in Nazareth, thereby avoiding the wrath of Herod’s son and successor while fulfilling the prophecy that the Savior would be a Nazarene (Matthew 2:22-23). Once again, human authorities unwittingly played right into God’s all-powerful hand.
Throughout his life, Jesus humbly submitted to the laws of the land, including the tax laws. When challenged to pay the temple tax imposed by the Roman authorities, He paid it (Matthew 17:24-27), in spite of the irony that He himself was the true temple (John 2:19). (The exact change for the tax was miraculously produced from a fish’s mouth, but that’s an outstanding story for another column!)
Even during the very last week of his life, Jesus dealt with tax challenges (Matthew 22:15-22). These were not designed to demand payment, but to trap Jesus into defying the government, thereby supplying grounds for his arrest. Knowing that, Jesus demonstrated that the coin used for the imperial tax bore the image of Caesar and said, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). And he did just that, when a few days later He gave back what was God’s – Himself – as He willingly yielded to the human rulers who once again played into God’s hand.
Ultimately, all earthly governments will dissolve and all followers of Jesus will thrive under His perfect, eternal rule, as so alluringly prophesied: “…the government will be on His shoulders…Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:6,7). In the meantime, we obey temporal authorities (Titus 3:1) when they do not violate God’s law, pay taxes to our government by whatever day they say, and, most importantly, give back to God the invaluable “coin” that bears his image: ourselves (Genesis 1:27).
The Rev. Christine Maddux serves as a deacon at Christ Anglican Church in Cashiers and lives in Sapphire. Send your questions and comments to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in the Crossroads Chronicle, April 15, 2020.