March 23, 2015
Only 22 days ‘til the Ides of April. Are you ready?
The big question, for many: file, or extension? The longer you live – and, the more complicated your financial affairs – the task of preparing for April 15th becomes more ponderous. No one is excused from the turmoil: whether you prepare your own returns, or have to retrieve and organize your records to give to a pro, the exercise is a once-a-year discipline without options.
Two things will be on your mind as you go through this process: 1) How much will you be able to deduct (from your gross income)? And, 2) How much will you be compelled to pay? The answer to #1 will have a direct affect on #2.
For many Americans who itemize, their largest deduction is for mortgage interest. On the typical tax return, the mortgage interest is twice the size of their charitable contributions. This profile reflects the norm for both religious and non-religious taxpayers…
What right does the government have to the earnings of its citizens? What right does a church have to the earnings of its members?
“After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?’ ‘Yes, he does,’ he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak.
“ ‘What do you think, Simon?’ he asked. ‘From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes – from their own children or from others?’ ‘From others,’ Peter answered. ‘Then the children are exempt,’ Jesus said to him. ‘But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.’ ” (Matthew 17:24-27).
That little story has generated cartloads of commentary by Bible teachers seeking to explain the floating factoid of the Temple Tax. Tied in history to a one-time assessment dating to Exodus, some stretch to make the case for the notion that a tax – any tax – once instigated gains eternal life, and never goes away. Others propose that the Roman government saw an opportunity to exploit the religious routines of their Jewish captives and charge them for their worship activities.
Whatever the backstory, what’s clear is compelling: if anyone could make a case for passing on the payout, it was the Son of the God worshipped at the Temple. But Jesus didn’t come to major on the minors; his message was already causing offenses that he welcomed; he wasn’t about to cause offense by coming off as an opponent to the tax system.
The intriguing provision in the picture: Jesus sent Peter to work – they were in Capernaum, Peter’s home town, and his fishing business was based on the Sea of Galilee, which was 100 yards away – to catch a fish. In short order, he brought in a pile of fish; the first of the catch had cash in its cheeks sufficient to cover Peter’s tax obligation as well as Jesus’ share.
Not much has changed, then to now: a commitment to not cause offense, but to sustain the responsibilities of citizenship is the commitment given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. If we accept that assignment, what will he do for us?
Go to work; examine your results. From the top-line revenue, settle the tax burden while giving an appropriate portion to Jesus. For Peter, that was just an even split: half went to his tax bill, the rest was Jesus’ portion…
Would that be a good way to calculate Jesus’ share of your income, in the future?