14And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” 16And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” 17Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him. Mark 12:14-17 (NRSV)
Today is April 15, also known as Tax Day. I can’t help but think of this passage from Mark’s gospel when I think about paying taxes to my state and the federal government. What about you?
In this passage from Mark, Jesus is asked a question by some Pharisees and Herodians, looking to trap him. They come to him with what seems to be no ulterior motive, but Jesus can see right through them, of course. When he responds in verse 17, they are “utterly amazed at him.”
Even as a kid, when I heard this passage, I thought Jesus’ response was so sensical, so obvious. How dumb were those guys to think that being religious meant they had no obligation to pay taxes to the government? I’m sure they did pay their share, but when Jesus added, “…and give to God the things that are God’s,” do you think they were cut to the quick? They were not expecting to hear this!
We are “good” about paying our taxes, but how good are we in giving back to God what is really God’s in the first place? Some might think this means they have to give generously to the church. Well, this could be one interpretation, but I think it is about more than just giving money. We have been given talents and gifts from the God, and we need to use them to give back to God, too. Giving money is good, but it has its limitations. Our potential to serve God and others, on the other hand, is limitless within God’s grace!
Kris Brugamyer, a member of the churchwide executive board, lives in Dickinson, N.D. She encourages anyone who needs a little help in finding what gifts they have to give back to God to use Women of the ELCA’s free resource: Gifts for You: Opening your Spiritual Gifts.