Shakespeare got it wrong, I think: it’s not the 15th of March you should beware these days but the Ides of April. For even though the filing deadline has shifted to July this year because of the current pandemic, Tax Day still brings a reflexive shudder to many of us, to say nothing of sheer exhaustion to accountants everywhere.
We sometimes forget, of course, that the idea of an individual income tax was intended to be a temporary measure lasting just a few years. For the purpose of the Revenue Act of 1862 was simply to help fund the Civil War. The tax rate was all of 3% on income over $800 which exempted most wage-earners, with ultimately only ten percent of Union households ending up paying anything at all.
What’s more, when a similar system was instituted in 1894 the Supreme Court fairly quickly declared it unconstitutional. Eventually, thus, it took the Sixteenth Amendment proposed in 1909 and ratified four years later to allow a new income tax to be imposed. Delightfully enough, however, no actual taxes were collected at all in the first year as instead taxpayers simply completed the form to practice getting it right, with the IRS checking for accuracy. (They quickly had to double their staff.)
But then we’re hardly the first folks to have to deal with taxes, for even in Jesus’ day, most folks felt the burden of enforced revenue collections and grumbled against them. What Jesus told His followers though was simply this: “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22.21) And it strikes me that those words apply not simply to paying our taxes but to offering our respect to those who govern, whether we think they deserve it or not. For how we follow our leaders is almost like how taxes worked the first year after ratification: a practice run for how we follow the Lord.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no interest in giving the government more than I owe them. For I’d much rather shift those resources to support faith-based groups doing incredible work around the world. But that whole “give to Caesar” notion compels me to offer to the government not only my fair share of the resources God has given me, but to respect the authority of those who lead us and follow their guidelines in the current crisis.
I know, I know. These restrictions, like taxes, are tough. I miss live church services, too. I’m even starting to miss some committee meetings. And I’d really like to come and see you in person and literally “break bread together,” to say nothing of being able to hug my grandkids again. But until someone gives the “all-clear” we’ll simply keep on what we’re doing with regard to the live-streaming, zoom calls, and socially-distant pastoral care. For I can’t help but believe that’s what it means to love God and to love our neighbors right now.
Even on the Ides of April.*
(* Yes, I know that technically the Ides of April is April 13, the other day of the month on which the “ides” can fall. But go with it for this blog anyway, okay?)