October 23, 2016: A Question about God’s Generosity

Posted on : Oct 20th, 2016 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

“Death and taxes” is a common reference to the famous quotation:

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

   — Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789

However, Franklin’s letter is not the origin of the phrase, which appeared earlier in Daniel Defoe’s The Political History of the Devil.

Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believ’d.

   — Daniel Defoe, The Political History of the Devil, 1726.

And in The Cobbler of Preston by Christopher Bullock (1716)

‘Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes,

 

Regardless of its origin, two things are certain: death and taxes. And a third “certainty” is that most people don’t like paying taxes.

In every election cycle the issue of taxes arises. A few weeks ago when someone “leaked” the first few pages of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax form, it showed he lost almost one billion dollars. That loss allowed a huge carryover into many years. Some tax specialists have estimated that would be a sizeable enough carry over so that Mr. Trump would not have had to pay taxes for 15 or more years. The reaction? Many of his supporters cheered that he got away without paying taxes; others condemned him.

I used to think the issue was that no one liked paying taxes, but I’ve revised my thinking in recent years.   What we really don’t like is “giving our hard earned money to the government.” That’s what irks so many. Just think of everything we could do with that money if it we didn’t have to give it to the government!

It’s that very issue that is at the heart of this Sunday’s “question” that Jesus was asked.  “Jesus, give us your opinion. Is it lawful to pay tax to the Roman emperor, or not?” Oh those are fighting words.

Now, Jesus is no fool, nor is he easily fooled. The story begins by telling us that the Pharisees sent their disciples to Jesus, accompanied by sympathizers of Herod, who said, “Teacher, we know you’re honest and teach God’s way sincerely. You court no one’s favor and don’t act out of respect for important people. [Be sure to note the sarcasm in what was just said.]

Give us your opinion, then, in this case. Is it lawful to pay tax to the Roman emperor, or not?”

Jesus recognized their bad faith and said to them, “Why are you trying to trick me, you hypocrites?

If you attended our October after-worship Bible study, you’d know “the Sadducees were sad and Pharisees were not fair.” The Pharisees were always out to protect their power and privilege as religious leaders and anyone who threatened that power and privilege was in deep trouble. The Pharisees sent their disciples accompanied by sympathizes of the Roman Emperor, Herod, to trap Jesus.

You see, the Pharisees were sure this radical Jesus was going to say it was OK NOT to pay taxes, which was a criminal offense in the Roman Empire. They sent the sympathizers of Herod along to give witness to what they anticipated would be Jesus’ crime. But they were wrong. Jesus outsmarted them and sent them away sad and enlightened.

You may remember I’ve said Jesus was asked 307 questions and only answered 3 directly.   There are five he answered indirectly – and this is one of them.

Jesus’ answer is not what most people hear in this response. The disciples of the Pharisees got it, which is what made them very sad. The answer to Jesus’ question is not as we usually interpret it. The answer isn’t about paying taxes to Caesar. The answer is a teaching about the GENEROSITY OF GOD.

More on Sunday.

Blessings,

Dan

~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Matthew 22: 15-22

From: The Inclusive Bible, a contemporary translation of the Bible

Then the Pharisees went off and began to plot how they might trap Jesus by his speech. They sent their disciples to Jesus, accompanied by sympathizers of Herod, who said, “Teacher, we know you’re honest and teach God’s way sincerely. You court no one’s favor and don’t act out of respect for important people. Give us your opinion, then, in this case. Is it lawful to pay tax to the Roman emperor, or not?”

Jesus recognized their bad faith and said to them, “Why are you trying to trick me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin which is used to pay the tax.” When they handed Jesus a small Roman coin, Jesus asked them, “whose head is this, and whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

At that, Jesus said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s but give to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this, they were astonished and went away.

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