Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.” [Matthew 22:21b (NCV)]
Some things never change and, aside from death, it’s said that taxes are the only other sure thing in our lives. Along with a poll (or head) tax, the Romans had a variety of other taxes including customs taxes, property taxes, import and export taxes, crop taxes, toll bridges, sales tax, and special taxes when there was a war or building project to finance. Sounds a bit like nowadays! Yesterday was April 15, the day the IRS demanded what is theirs. When you put “the” and “IRS” together you get the word “theirs” and, once we’ve filed our taxes, it sure feels like the government considers most of what’s ours to be theirs!
When the Pharisees joined with the Herodians and asked Jesus if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, they weren’t asking for accounting advice. Both groups wanted to trap Jesus into saying something that would get Him into trouble either with Rome or the people of Judea. Since paying taxes was a painful and costly reminder of their subjection to Rome, saying yes would anger his own people. If he said no, he’d infuriate the Herodians (Jews who supported Rome), be reported as an insurrectionist, and could be executed for treason. There was no good answer.
It’s foolish to try to outsmart God and Jesus gave the perfect answer. He asked whose portrait was on the coin. Caesar’s picture was on the denarius, the coin of the day, along with these words: “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus.” With Caesar’s picture and title on it, the coin that deified the emperor clearly belonged to him. Jesus told the people to give to Caesar what belonged to Caesar and to God the things that were His.
Jesus told us we should pay the government what rightfully belongs to it; like it or not, our obligations to the government and the services it provides must be met. Following good and honest accounting advice is wise and no one wants to pay more than his due. There is, however, a fine line between tax avoidance and tax evasion. While there are some people who would never describe themselves as thieves, they think nothing of cheating on their taxes. They don’t call it theft but theft it is. Unfortunately, some of us dishonor God when preparing our taxes by fudging, misreporting, manipulating, or conveniently forgetting income. The term “creative accounting” doesn’t change what it is: stealing.
Some citizens justify tax cheating by saying they don’t approve of the way the government spends tax money. That’s a convenient excuse. Something tells me, no matter which party is in power and how the government spends, as long as they were expected to pay taxes, they’d never approve of the government’s expenditures. So, as much as we disliked doing it, yesterday we rendered unto to Caesar the things that are his. While we didn’t enjoying doing it, let us remember that laws and taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society.
Income tax returns are the most imaginative fiction being written today. [Herman Wouk]