Now, here’s a thing. Sometimes a number of different events come together in a few days to remind us of a particular subject from the Bible, or even a single verse (In this case, Matthew 22:21).
The first of these events was the U.S. elections which happened on Tuesday, but which went on until Saturday afternoon with the counting of the votes. In a sense it is still going on as one candidate was widely acknowledged as the winner over there and the other claimed that there had been widespread voter fraud and vowed to take legal action to rectify that.
The second event this week was closer to home – the re-introduction of a Covid-19 lockdown in England by the Westminster Government this Thursday. Now, generally I avoid Covid discussions because no-one agrees on anything. In this case some people think the new lockdown goes too far, some people think it has come too late and/or does not go far enough. A third group (which includes me) has no idea which of these views is right.
The third event was even more local and happened when one of those unwelcome brown envelopes landed on my mat – this one from the tax people. I opened it with trepidation to find inside of it a cheque from them to me! Happy days, you might think. But closer examination showed it to be the same amount as I had just paid to them a few days before. Upon investigation it seems that somehow what I had paid went in my tax account for 2017/18, triggering an automatic refund to be paid. Now, I could cash the cheque, but that would show my account for 2019/20 being as in arrears. So, reluctantly, I have sent it back.
What linked these three things in my mind was something about the legitimacy of Government – elections, new laws and regulations that impact upon individuals’ freedom, and the payment of taxes. This is the full passage in Matthew 21.15-22:
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Whilst Jesus was undoubtedly responding to a trick question from the Pharisees he was also confirming and important principle for Christians – Government generally is legitimate and has a claim upon our allegiance and our resources (money in this case). But some things are to be reserved to God and God alone. What exercises our thoughts of course, is which things are Caesar’s and which are God’s?
As with most such discussions we can often agree very quickly on a lot of it. The Government is allowed to raise taxes and ensure internal order; God alone is to be worshipped – No small thing when Roman Emperors declared themselves to be gods. But what about the sanctity of life, for example? Some Christians continue to be pacifists and others refuse to submit to the Government on issues such as abortion and euthanasia. As is so often the case, a simple statement by Jesus can lead us to some real soul-searching.
Now, what if they haven’t made a mistake, sending me that cheque?