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What Jesus Thought about Paying Taxes

Tax Day has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped preaching on the hard sayings of Jesus.
 

And here’s one of many: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.”

 

The context of this is interesting. Jews hated paying taxes and especially hated those of their own race who collected the taxes. The statement Jesus makes is an answer to a trap.

 

Jewish leaders had asked Jesus if it was right to pay the tax to Caesar. If Jesus said that paying taxes was a good thing, he would alienate the populist crowds that were following him. If he advocated not paying taxes, he would be in danger of being incarcerated or worse by the Roman government.

 

His statement is timeless. We must be good citizens and good Christians. The two go hand in hand. What that might look like is another matter altogether.

 

As the press and events surrounding Tea Party activism reveal, we live in a country divided. This is not new.

 

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The same tensions and divisions existed in the time of Christ. Here is the cool thing: Jesus had a zealot (Tea Partier?) and a pro big-government tax collector (Democrat?) on his team. They worked together and lived together every day. Don’t you know those conversations were interesting? So what do we make of this?

 

Give unto Caesar …

 

Government is needed, but it cannot fix humanity’s main ills and cannot answer life’s biggest questions. It is what it is.

 

Give unto God …

 

The church cannot become a de facto political party. Let the world take care of that business. We serve a risen savior that can fix humanity’s ills and answer life’s biggest questions.

 

Jesus’ response to the Jewish leaders of his day does not relieve the question with an “either/or” answer. Like two sides of one coin, we are called to pay our taxes – to Uncle Sam – and pay our dues – to God.

 

Ed Hogan is pastor of Jersey Village Baptist Church in Houston. A version of this column first appeared on his blog.