How times have changed. In the Gospels, tax collectors were the epitome of the sinners that Christ came to save – a category of sinners worthy of a mention all of their own. “Scum” in some translations.
In the contemporary gospel of JC (Jeremy Corbyn) tax collectors are the paragons of righteousness. It is the tax avoiders who are the scum.
Thanks to the leaking of the “Paradise Papers” there is – once again – moral indignation that rich people & corporations are taking advantage of opportunities to reduce the amount of tax they have to hand over to the government. What would Jesus do if one of these scum were dragged before Him, caught in the very act of dodging tax?
If only Jesus had been confronted with questions about paying taxes to help us understand the mind of God on these things!
“On their arrival in Capernaum, the collectors of the Temple tax came to Peter and asked him, “Doesn’t [Jesus] pay the Temple tax?”
Hmmm, seems like Jesus was quite prepared to do a bit of “tax avoidance” of His own. Or, more accurately, like the Queen of England who does not legally have to pay tax (the clue is in the name, “Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs”) but chooses to do so voluntarily, Jesus was pointing out that He was exempt from a tax for the upkeep of His Father’s house. Still, to avoid offending any social justice Pharisees, He paid it anyway. But rather than going to the treasurer to cough up, He ended up using some “creative” accounting (literally!) from an off-shore fund! Seems like Her Majesty has taken a lead from His Majesty!
“[Jesus], we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Here we find Jesus’ famous quote of, “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s“. An open and shut case – pay your taxes. It’s Queen Elizabeth’s head on your cash – pay what Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs demand. Simple. Except does that create an obligation to pay the maximum than Caesar demands?
If you can buy your cigarettes from the duty free shop or from the supermarket, is there an obligation to buy them from the supermarket? If your feet are small enough to buy children’s shoes should you insist on buying an equivalent adult pair which incur VAT? Even by shopping around for a bargain you are reducing the money that “Caesar” will receive in VAT. If you can minimise what you give to Caesar without breaking the law or being dishonest, then is that OK, or should we trying to give the maximum?
In another famous tax story of the New Testament, Zacchaeus – the chief tax collector, a senior public sector employee – has gotten rather wealthy. As the story pans out, it’s the tax collector who feels guilty for over-taxing/cheating the people. He promises some tax-refunds as a result of encountering Jesus. Oh for such an encounter with Jesus for any of our chief tax collectors!
So, what would the original JC say if one these “Paradise Paper” sinners was dragged before Him by a baying twitter mob? I suspect He might do the same as He did with the adulterer – pause, maybe tweet some hashtags like #ISAs, #cash-in-hand, #duty-free, #PensionContributions, #InheritanceTaxGifts, #BradfordTaxiFares*’ – then tweet, “let him who is without a tax dodge cast the first coin”. [* – He who has ears, let him hear!!]
Personally, I’d like to see a return to the Biblical times, where tax collectors are the “bad guys”; where we only render unto HMRC what is rightfully HMRCs (and not a penny more); and, more importantly, where we render unto God what is God’s.
I hope any socialist Christians (and I still struggle to see that as anything other than an oxymoron!) are as diligent about maximising their personal giving to God’s Kingdom as they are about seeing other people maximise their giving to the state; I hope they don’t condone theological loopholes to avoid storing up treasures in Heaven whilst condemning taxation loopholes to store up treasures in a haven!
I do believe we have a sacred duty towards our taxes: “earners have a sacred duty to stop as much money as they (legally) can getting into the filthy hands of Big Government, because it will only go and spend it on something completely useless“.
Once upon a time, as worshipers presented their voluntary “taxes” in church – tithes and offerings – it would be accompanied by this majestic piece of liturgy (taken directly from scripture):
Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power,
the glory, the splendour, and the majesty;
for everything in heaven and on earth is yours.
All things come from you,
and of your own do we give you.
… which is exactly the kind of adoration so many on the the political left seem to bestow on their saviour: the great, benevolent state. No wonder they get so upset when “rich people” (i.e. people who have more money than them!) seem begrudging in their gifts of homage. Even Archbishops seem to get swept along with it all. But for those of us who know the real Saviour and prefer to pay their greatest homage to God, “the less the state takes in statutory taxation, the more you get to keep and freely give as you wish. So please don’t be lured by the statist air that higher taxation = greater social justice = what Jesus wants. He wants you to give freely as your heart desires, for God loves a cheerful giver.“ (Archbishop Cranmer blog)