Appropriate Appropriation of Wealth
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
It’s that time of year again. Time for a familiar refrain, and an uncomfortable reminder. That money that you worked so hard for – that resource that the government unfairly and without your consent took from your paycheque throughout the year, only to dole out to you in a diminished amount in the spring – it doesn’t belong to you. That windfall that you have just come into or are anticipating coming into in a short time is not yours.
That’s a hard thing to admit in our culture. We have suckled at the breast of capitalism for so long that we intrinsically and instinctively believe that what we have is ours, and what has been taken from us is ours as well. Depending on your political ideology, the fact that you don’t have complete discretion over all of your earnings to start with is either a necessary evil for the purposes of the greater good (liberal-leaning) or legalized theft enacted by the powers of the state (conservative-leaning). But nobody I know renders unto Caesar what is his–voluntarily.
Which is part of what makes the second half of that command so daunting.
You see, if we honestly believe that all we have, and all we have made is ours – and ours alone – then it becomes very difficult, nigh impossible, to recognize that what we understand as ours is actually God’s and that we have been entrusted with it to be used at HIS discretion and for HIS purposes. Which brings me back to this season of income tax.
Every spring we are compelled by the authority of the government to give an accounting of our earnings and expenditures and what we owe Caesar from our productivity. Many of us have our taxes deducted at source which means that when we reconcile what we’ve paid with the deductions that are available to us for many of the expenses of life (not the least of which are the charitable deductions that come from our faithful discipline of tithing) we quite often have a balance coming back to us from the government which we call an income tax refund.
Huzzah! Free money.
It’s actually just money that you earned and for which you rendered unto Caesar more than you needed to throughout the year. Money for which you did not account as income, but which comes back to you as a sort of mandated savings plan. Many of us feel rich during the months of March or April when this cheque comes through because we didn’t account for it in our annual budget and now it’s like Christmas all over again. Bur where did that money come from, and to who does it belong?
You see where I’m going with this?
If that money was God’s to begin with, and Caesar is giving it back to you – is it not still God’s? And if you practice the discipline of tithing (whatever your current percentage commitment is – even if you’re not yet at 10%), chances are that you didn’t tithe off of what you gave to Caesar. In my experience as a pastor – most people don’t. We generally calculate our “tithe” off of our net income rather than our gross. The implication of that is that any money coming back to you at Tax time is money that the Lord still has a claim to. So, what are you going to do with God’s stuff?
Allow me to make a suggestion.
You could just throw it in the offering box on Sunday morning as a general offering. I’m sure that our treasurer and finance team would be happy with that contribution to the general fund, but a special offering should have a special significance. Why not use it to contribute to our refugee resettlement initiative?
If you haven’t heard, we are sponsoring a refugee family from Pakistan to come to Canada through the C&MA sponsorship holder agreement with the federal government. This is a family that is currently living in exile because of their Christian faith and is in real danger every day of being discovered in their current nation and being deported back to Pakistan where they will face severe persecution. At The Bridge Church we understand that God has called us to care for this family and others like them, and so we are currently raising money toward a goal of about $30,000 to bring them over and get them settled in Canada. This is a work of the Gospel and we would love for you to partner with us in making it happen.
Every year at this time we trot out this story from Mark to remind you that what you think is yours is actually God’s and to encourage you to give. This year, our board of elders has officially endorsed this refugee resettlement project as our 12:17 Initiative target. And we’re starting by setting the example. A couple of weeks ago Joanna and I got our tax refund (I’m a keener who likes to file on the first day you can do so over the internet) and this past Sunday we gave about 10% of what we got back from Caesar to the refugee resettlement project. I want to personally challenge you to do the same. What are you holding onto for your own purposes that rightly belongs to God for his?
So, there you have it – a heavy handed exhortation from your pastor to separate yourself from your hard-earned and recently returned money. But if it was never really yours to begin with, then what do you have to lose? Once you’ve settled accounts with Caesar over what is his – all that’s left to do is give to God what is God’s.
Something to think about.