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Taxes & Tithes?


Our reading from the Narrative Lectionary for this week is from Mark 12:13-17.  The pharisees send some government devotees to stump Jesus.  They start with flattering words, but press in with a question that is designed to trap him. They ask if it is lawful to pay taxes. 

The law found in scripture was designed for a theocracy where the religious and government leaders were the same, but they lived in a time under an occupying force.  This makes this question sticky and difficult to answer.  If Jesus says they should not pay taxes then the occupying force has evidence that Jesus is a rebel and guilty of treason, but if he says they should pay taxes then he is adding to the law and further oppressing the poor who often surrounded him.

Jesus calls this out for what it is but decides to play along anyway.  He asked for a coin and pointed out the face of Caesar on the coin.  He answers the question and instructs the crowd at the same time "Give to Caesar what is his, and give to God what is His".  Essentially Jesus says you must pay taxes and you must tithe, but his answer is far more nuanced than that. 

Tithes and offerings were not originally set up with coins or currency in mind.  When you made offerings you were offering grain and animals.  Farmers gave grain, shepherds gave sheep, beekeepers gave honey, carpenters gave furniture, masons helped build the temple, etc.  You were offering food and real goods.  These were then consumed by the Levites, who were not allowed to own land, or used in the temple. Leftovers were stored and given to the poor.  Money only came into this equation later when people started doing work that did not have a real product.  So, in today's society what is God's and what is the government's?

For some of us, this is just as simple as it always was.  Jesus says to pay taxes with your money but to offer whatever you produce to the church as a tithe or offering.  This includes your home gardens and hobbies.  For many of us though, it is not so simple.  If you do not own the company then it is not your produce to give.  You may use your skills to make some for the church, but what if that is not possible?  Or, what if you don't produce a real product at all?  What about a childcare worker, teachers, waiters, customer service, etc?

I believe the key to this question lies in how he identified what was Caesars.  Caesar's face was marked on the coin, so it must be Caesars.  Where is the face of God marked?  Well, you of course.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God.  You are the temple of God, made with the image woven into the fiber of your being.  So what does it mean to give to God what is God's?  It means to give all of yourself.  Give your gifts, your talents, your heart.  God does not want a single gift from you out of obligation, but he does want your heart, and with that will naturally come an outpouring of your gifts and talents.  You will make this place more like God's place by being Christ's hands and feet in this world.  That may be through money in the offering plate, or through serving in the church, but it could also be from helping your neighbor or your community.  What does it mean for you to give to God what is God's in your life?  I would love to hear your thoughts, comment below.


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