April 15th at my house is a bit deal. Having been married to a CPA for almost 33 years, there is always a sigh of relief when this day is over. With computers and e-mail, the phone doesn’t ring as constant as it used to in the days leading up to the deadline and John doesn’t make those 11:00pm trips to the Post Office to drop off the returns of those wait-until-the-last-minute clients.
During Lent I read Marcus Borg’s The Last Week (HarperOne, 2006), in which he (and John Dominic Crossan) walk us through Holy Week according to Mark’s gospel. On Tuesday we hear the Pharisees and Herodians try to entrap Jesus with questions about paying taxes to Caesar. They give an interesting exegesis of this passage in addition to the usual: Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s. Give to God the things that are God’s. They question to ponder then is, “What belongs to Caesar, and what belongs to God?” For Jesus and many of his Jewish contemporaries, everything belongs to God. Leviticus 25:23 says that the land belongs to God and all are the tenant farmers or resident aliens on land that belongs to God. To use Tuesday of Holy Week’s language, the vineyard belongs to God, not to the local collaborators, not to Rome. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” (Psalm 24:1)
Jesus is again posed a tricky question. He gives us the two-fold great commandment – to love God and to love our neighbors. How are the two connected – and what does this have to do with April 15, 2010? We are to give to God what belongs to God: our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength. To love one another means to refuse to accept the divisions rendered by the status quo around us, whether it is Caesar or the US government. We are to bridge divisions between rich and poor, respected and marginalized, righteous and sinners, friends and enemies. Hopefully paying our taxes today help provide services to those who need them.
Simplistic, yes. But I think Walter Brueggemann states it much better in his prayer from Prayers for a Privileged People (Abingdon, 2008):
Income Tax Day
On this day of internal revenue some of us are paid up, some of us owe, some of us await a refund, some of us have no income to tax. But all of us are taxed, by war, by violence, by anxiety, by deathliness. And Caesar never gives any deep tax relief. We render to Caesar . . . to some it feels like a grab, to some it is clearly a war tax, to some – some few – it is a way to contribute to the common good. In any case we are haunted by what we render to Caesar, by what we might render to you, by the way we invest our wealth and our lives, when what you ask is an “easy yoke”: to do justice to love mercy to walk humbly with you. Give us courage for your easy burden, so to live untaxed lives.