October 23, 2008

A Taxing Question

            This week’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 22:15-22, recounts a question about taxes both ancient and contemporary.  Both Pharisees and Herodians, a strange collusion, plot to entrap Jesus with this query: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”  A form of this question is circulating in this frenzied political season, i.e., “Is it patriotic to pay taxes or not?”  A simple yes or no answer was not sufficient for Jesus, nor is it for us. As persons of faith we live in a world that requires loyalties that are often in tension—the political context in which we live and the reign of God.  Taxes allow us to receive significant benefits of citizenship; we receive protection, educational opportunities, and the infrastructures that sustain life. 

            Taxes are also a means of providing services to those whose life circumstances require assistance.  This is where the lines are usually drawn, and we judge one another’s patriotism by personal and social priorities. Paying taxes to Rome was as unpleasant for those oppressed by the empire’s heel as investing in instruments of war is to some today.  That we live in the time between the inauguration of the reign of God and its consummation requires that we give both to God and to “empire.” That we feel keenly the tension between the two suggests that we are persons on pilgrimage; although a citizen, each is a homo viatore, whose true home transcends the present.


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