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Give it to Caesar!

Benjamin Franklin, in 1789, wrote a letter in which he remarked on the newly established constitution. He wrote, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
These days, whenever someone says “death and taxes,” we know exactly what they mean. They are trying to describe how most things are not fixed, not guaranteed. They may say, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.”
Taxes! Everyone’s favorite topic of conversation, right? Personally, my favorite tax is the “Dad Tax” that is required on Halloween, a bit from each trick-or-treater’s bag paid directly to the Dad. (Namely, me.) Of course, our more official taxes are paid so that we can have things like schools and roads and fire stations and stuff like that. And then there are all the complexities and nuances of taxes in this nation, and the corresponding strong feelings about them that people hold.
In this week’s Scripture reading, Mark 12:13-17, Jesus is asked a question about (you guessed it!) taxes. A group trying to stir up trouble for him asks, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” It really is a fascinating question, and there are a lot of ways to approach it. On the surface level, the answer is, “Yes, of course.” If by “lawful” you mean permitted by Roman law, then most definitely it is. In fact it is not only permitted; it is required!
But as with so much of the Gospel, there is a lot going on under the surface, and as such it is worth spending some time reflecting on its meaning. The question opens up a conversation among the people present, and Jesus uses the opportunity to teach people something about who God is and who God wants us to be.
In this series, “Revolutionary Love,” we have been focusing on how divine love changes us, changes the world around us, and helps to build the Reign of Christ on earth. This week we’ll think together about how a conversation regarding taxes informs this topic. Of that you can be certain! (Of course, in this life, nothing is certain but death…and taxes!)


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