This is the week that most of us have to adhere to one of the teachings of Jesus. As we approach the April 15th tax deadline, we are reminded of the time that Jesus was asked a trick question about paying taxes to Caesar. His opponents wanted to trap him, so they asked him, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?" It was a good trap. If Jesus said, "No," then he would have been guilty of treason for advocating non-payment of taxes to the Roman Empire. If Jesus said, "Yes," then he risked losing many followers who hated paying taxes to their Roman oppressors. Instead, Jesus turned the trick question into a teaching moment. He asked someone to bring him a coin (it is interesting to note that Jesus did not have any money of his own), and he asked, "Whose inscription is on this coin?" When people answered, "Caesar," then Jesus replied (in the older English translations), "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, but render unto God what is God's."
Beyond avoiding a trick question, Jesus reminded us about our responsibilities at citizens of two kingdoms. We all live in a secular kingdom, and we are obliged as citizens to pay our fair share. Most of us don't get much joy out of paying our taxes, but it is a part of our responsibility as citizens of the United States or wherever else we live. Most United Methodist clergy actually pay more in taxes than a layperson with similar income, because the IRS regards us as employees of our churches but Social Security regards us as self-employed. Thus, clergy pay both halves of the Social Security tax. Likewise, most of us clergy live in parsonages, so we don't have enough mortgage interest to deduct and move us into categories to take advantage of itemizing our other deductions. Obviously there are other advantages to living in parsonages (in terms of not paying our own utilities or housing costs), but we do pay Social Security taxes on those advantages, and we don't have opportunity to build up equity on those very advantages for which we are taxed. So most of us United Methodist clergy pay our share or more of "rendering unto Caesar."
But the answer of Jesus reminds all of us (clergy and laity alike) that we are also citizens of another kingdom, the kingdom of God, and we have obligations there which are in addition to our obligations to the IRS. I believe that God calls us to tithe our income as a witness to our citizenship in God's realm. Frankly, I find much more joy in giving my tithe to the churches we attend than I do in paying my taxes to the IRS. But there is a very real sense in which both are obligations of my citizenship.
So this week I will make sure that I "render unto Caesar" but I will also check my running list of offerings to make sure that I am witnessing to my more important allegiance to God.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner