Taxing Times for the Spiritually Destitute
Sunday April 15, 2012
By Al Gray
Today is April 15th, a day on the annual calendar that brings dread, anguish, monetary pain and just plain resentment across the land. This year the coincidence of tax filing day and Sunday brought a welcome 2 day reprieve. People absolutely detest taxes, especially in these times of dysfunctional, corrupt, and even counterproductive government. Just this weekend came news that the vaunted, respected, and powerful Secret Service, who are protectors and guardians of the United States Treasury, had their Presidential advance team recalled from the country of Columbia because of entanglements with a group of prostitutes! One wonders how much lower our government can fall. The natural tendency is to become dubious of the justification to support such a government with our tax money. That is another subject best left to another day.
In Jesus’ day, the Roman government contracted out the collection of taxes to the subject states, with the tax collectors empowered to keep any excess taxes that were collected. Privatization of this unsavory process is nothing new, which is something our politicians spouting nonsense about the glories of contracting government out should think about but certainly won’t.
9 As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.
10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
From historical accounts, a tax collector of that day angled very hard and probably had make ‘contributions’ to be awarded a tax booth, so it is remarkable that Matthew would respond so readily to Jesus’ call.
Tax collectors who were Jews were doubly reviled as traitors. Because of the incentives to over collect and keep the excess for themselves, many abused the people with aggressive collection practices, even including beatings. Perhaps the social revulsion and disdain of the masses had taken a toll. We will never know what motivated Matthew to join the band of disciples that day. What we do know is that Matthew needed Jesus and sensed it in a very immediate, profound way.
What is more is that Matthew brought even more tax collectors into the fold, as it is written, “Many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining.” The Pharisees were astounded that Jesus would affiliate with the social and religious underclass. One supposes that they understood in some elementary way, that the physically defective, injured, maimed, and hurting would flock to anyone who was delivering relief from their conditions. Dining with detested tax collectors truly had them stumped.
Bear in mind that immediately before Jesus called Matthew from the toll booth, he had healed a paralyzed man, addressing a very obvious need of the physically downtrodden man. The subtle shift to dining with despised tax collectors pointed out those sinners had emotional afflictions that also justified Jesus prompt attention. “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” meant He came for those who confessed that they are sinners, not those whose zealotry kept them going through the motions of some liturgy, practice, or dogma without realizing or admitting their innate sinful nature. The Pharisee could not see the truth that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
Are we in our modernity any better suited to see this truth? Are we so caught up in social status that our churches spurn folks who appear to regularly fall short? Would anyone with an independent eye and judgment figure that we are later day Pharisees ourselves?
On this April 15 we need to tax our thoughts and minds on these matters so as to more faithfully attend to the central teaching of Christ. AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’
In many ways this is the hardest tax of them all to pay. Its requirements are to give up the hatreds, animosities, dislikes, disdains, and other emotional impediments we hold with a near religious fervor to truly love each other. It won’t be easy. Following Jesus never is. If we fall short, yet have faith that Jesus paid it all, that will become the biggest tax credit that we can imagine.
Last Sunday’s Sermon–> Easter Sunday: He Has Risen!