April 15, 2013
This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).
That line, from the King James Version of the Bible, was published in 1611. James – son of Mary, Queen of Scots – started his reign as James VI, King of Scotland, but was chosen by childless Elizabeth I in England from a crowded field of royal candidates to succeed her, which he did in 1603, as James I. He had written of his political philosophy in The True Law of Free Monarchies, arguing with biblical attribution for the divine right of kings, an absolutist approach to a king’s power, and that royalty were a higher order of humans. He tolerated the notion of parliamentary participation, but did not lean toward the consent of the governed. In his view, kings were the next-thing to God.
April 15th is a conflicted day for many/most Americans. This marks the 100th anniversary year of the 16th Amendment, which gave Congress the right to impose an income tax on citizens. Over the last century, a near fatalism has attached to the 105th day of the calendar year. In fact, it is repeated as if sourced in divine scripture: “There are only two things in life that are certain: death and taxes…”
Why do Americans gnash teeth on April 15th? According to a survey this month, 43% don’t trust what government will do with their hard-earned money collected as taxes, and 38% don’t believe that others are paying their “fair share” (a term that has very current political overtones).
So… this is a day that the 16th Amendment has made, and we’ll despair and be irritated in it; we’ll get back to rejoicing and being glad tomorrow. Good plan? Bad plan?
In America, we still have some say in the tax-and-spend culture of government. In Israel – back in Jesus’ day – that participative structure didn’t exist. The Roman occupation began in 63 BC when General Pompey marched on Jerusalem and made Israel a vassal state of the heathen Roman Empire. Jesus emerged with growing popularity among the Jewish subjects of Rome, after nearly 100 years of military subjugation. In Israel, every day was April 15th; the extraction of taxes – to fund Rome’s abuse – was a never-ending source of anguish for the Jewish community.
The religious leaders were at wits-end regarding Jesus’ influence over the people, so they hatched a plan to get him removed. The strategy: get him to dis Rome, and then turn him in. They sent agents, masquerading as friendly inquirers, to ask Jesus’ political opinion: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Luke 20:21-22)
Snakes! “He saw through their duplicity and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. He said to them, ‘Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’” (23-25)
God used Paul’s letter to the Christians whose church was in Rome to anchor this reminder, in perpetuity: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves… This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:1-3, 6-7)
Last night, we stopped at the Post Office on the way to dinner, with grand-girls in the car. It was a non-event: I dropped envelopes in the box – addressed to state and federal agencies – with checks enclosed. No trauma; no drama. I’m one of the 43% who suspect what they’ll do with it, but my orders from Heaven’s Headquarters said, “Pay the tax.”
He also said, “Don’t forget God.”