Warm-up Question: Why do we pay taxes?
The current economic crisis may put hopes for tax cuts on hold, perhaps permanently. Both presidential candidates have promised lower taxes in some form and both have talked of extending the tax cuts approved during George Bush’s first term.
But the enormous, expensive bail-out program recently passed by Congress may mean that the new president will have to break those promises. The amount of the rescue package — close to $1 trillion — equals over a third of the entire national budget. Even after “belt-tightening” measures meant to reduce spending are put in place, both government and citizens may be in for a long, hard road before any of the money is paid back, much less until the budget is balanced.
On the other hand, raising taxes does not appear to be good idea, either. Experts cite the actions of President Herbert Hoover after the stock market crash of 1929. Hoover’s response was a steep increase in taxes which many believe worsened the Great Depression.
While it is unlikely that people will be reduced to selling apples on street corners, as they were during the 1930’s, individuals, businesses, and government on every level may have to redefine “necessity” in their spending habits for the coming months and years.
- Many news sources, when writing about the current bank and mortgage crisis, mention a famous quote from the 1987 movie Wall Street: “Greed is good.” How did greed, both individual and corporate, contribute to today’s money problems?
- If you could ask the presidential candidates a question about how they would handle the nation’s money, what would it be? What responsibility do you feel, if any?
- When it comes to giving money, your time, or donating something, who or what would get priority in your life (could be more than one thing)?
- If you could make a suggestion to the candidates what would it be?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 19, 2008.
(Text links are to oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year A at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
No one likes to pay taxes, but this duty was especially distasteful to the Jews who lived under Roman rule. They knew that their tax money contributed to the decadent Roman lifestyle, to luxuries for the emperor and the building of pagan temples. The Pharisees saw this as the perfect trap for Jesus. If he was in favor of paying taxes, the people would turn against him. If he was not, the Romans would arrest him.
Jesus does not fall for it though. Instead he takes the opportunity to remind the Jews (and his own followers) of their dual citizenship. We have, so to speak, one foot on earth and one in heaven. We are to give our government its due: payment of taxes, obedience to the law, loyalty, and service. In return we receive the benefits of citizenship and set a good example as Christians.
First and foremost, though, we belong to the kingdom of God. When we give “to God the things that are God’s,” (v. 21) we are not forced by the law, but we are motivated by the Spirit and inspired by love and gratitude. Nor do we measure our giving by typical earthly standards. We needn’t worry that any time, talent, resource, or money we entrust to God will be wasted or spent poorly. “Stock” in the kingdom of God never falls prey to human greed and does not lose its value.
Psalm 96:1-10, another of this week’s readings, shows us more about giving God what is God’s. We are told to sing God’s praise, declare his glory, and speak of his attributes (“ascribe”). Every nation and all people should hear about God’s love, power, blessings, creative work, and justice through us. In giving God glory and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, we experience the joy and privilege of spreading God’s Word throughout the world; a world that is desperate for good news, lasting hope, and new life.
- Some people make it a matter of conscience to withhold the amount of their taxes that would contribute to programs with which they disagree. Based on today’s Gospel lesson, is this valid Christian behavior? Why or why not? (See also Matthew 17:24-27) What does Jesus suggest in the way of behavior that goes beyond what might be expected or required of us by the government or even our congregation?
- In what ways can we express honest disagreement with our leaders and still remain good citizens and representatives of Christ? When is expressing a different opinion or opposition difficult or not so easy to figure out how to do it? (At home, school, in public, politically, among friends, at church, with strangers, with adults? What challenges or support for expressing disagreement are found in each of these realms?)
- Think about the Christian’s “dual citizenship.” Give examples of both kinds of “investment” — earthly and heavenly, but not necessarily financial — and their benefits in real, everyday life. Can earthly and heavenly be easily separated? How or why not?
Some related resources
Arrange in advance for access to a camera that takes videos. Most digital cameras do, even those on cell phones.
During an election year, there are a lot of public service announcements on television about being a good citizen by voting. What kind of public service announcement might encourage people to be good citizens of heaven; faithful and generous followers of Christ?
As a class, discuss and list the kind of actions such an announcement might promote. Write and produce the announcement, and film it with a video-capable camera. Post it on the church Web site or on the personal Web site of a class or church member.
“God of Grace and God of Glory,” “O, Master, Let Me Walk with You” (ELW, #818), “We Are an Offering” (ELW, #692), “Here I Am, Lord” (ELW, #574), and “Lord of All Hopefulness” (ELW, #765)
Dear Heavenly Father, you want us to live holy and generous lives on earth to prepare us for the joy of your heavenly kingdom. Direct our hearts and minds toward your Word so that we can be guided and moved to care for all people and creation as you desire. Remind us that when we give to you what is yours, we give our very selves. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray. Amen
Contributed by Sylvia Alloway
Granada Hills, CA