In the last month we have enjoyed the dubious privilege of reading the tax returns of our nation’s leaders, which has sparked a healthy national debate about taxation and its avoidance. I am spared the moral dilemma of whether to deposit my wealth offshore in Panama – it just goes round the corner in the Royal Bank. But it has left me thinking about our attitude to taxation.
In Matthew 17, Jesus doesn’t have the money to pay his taxes. But, despite suggesting to Peter that the Messiah should get a tax exemption, he duly finds the wherewithal. In Matthew 22, when Jesus is asked about evading paying taxes to the Romans, he famously responds: “Render to Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's”. This is often as the Christian tax ethic - we must pay our taxes, if somewhat reluctantly.
However, it is wrong to compare the taxes of Jesus’s day and those we pay today. Roman taxes were regressive. While they might have paid for roads, the bulk funded the military occupation and the lavish lifestyles and building of emperors. They were inflated by corrupt tax-farmers like Zacchaeus. They were a constant contention and a burden to the poor. Our taxes today pay for hospitals, schools, police, welfare, defence and overseas aid. They are designed (or should be) to ensure the richest make the largest contributions and the poor benefit. Imagine living in a society which lacked tax and welfare.
Of course, there are valid economic discussions about the level of taxation, and it is not for a minister in an election month to stray into such. But perhaps, before we point fingers at the evasion of others, we might look to our own attitude, and be thankful for the privilege of paying tax. Perhaps we should be grateful that when we are able to earn more we are able to contribute more to our community. 2nd Corinthians 9:6-7 suggest that “the Lord loves a cheerful giver”. Again the context is different, but perhaps our attitude should be the same. Perhaps we might even cheerfully return a thank you note with a tax return. And maybe if we celebrated the paying of tax, we might discourage the selfish human temptation to avoid and evade. Let us pray for justice and fairness in finance, and give God thanks for all that is good.
With every blessing,