29A – 22 Oct 2023

Giving God all

Message by: Fr Richard M Healey

MP3 media (7:30am)

MP3 media (10:30am)

In this homily, Fr Richard Healey shares their personal experience with receiving a tax assessment from the Australian Taxation Office, sparking a reflection on the complexities of taxation. They discuss the tension between personal convictions and civic responsibilities, and the strategies some individuals use to minimise their tax obligations. Fr Richard also delves into the historical context of taxation, specifically the poll tax in the first century imposed by the Romans. He continues with a discussion on the differing views of the Herodians and Pharisees regarding taxes. He concludes with the call to focus on the invitation to give all to God.


(00:00:00) – Death and taxes. There are only two things, apparently, that we cannot avoid in this life. And now it’s death and taxes by text message. I got a text from the ATO this week telling me that my tax assessment had been completed, and I owed this much money, and I had to pay it by the 21st of November. Now it’s been a couple of years with Covid and all of that, and we weren’t getting paid our stipend and we weren’t receiving our normal allowance and getting the supplement and all those kinds of things. So it’s been a couple of years since I’ve paid any tax. So I thought, okay, that’s fair enough. Living in a democracy like Australia, it’s good to contribute to society and to the community. Now, the topic of taxation, of course, leads us in a whole range of different situations. Some of you might think, yes, it’s very good for you to pay your fair share, but I’m not going to pay mine as long as I can get my tax accountant to work out what is the maximum number of deductions that I can squeeze out and how to minimise my obligation.

(00:01:13) – And we know that from certain high profile people that don’t pay any tax and are able to to form or find a way through all the system, taxes has always been that that kind of place, particularly in more contemporary society where we’re trying to work out how do we actually approach this, how do we live in a way that gives honour to our convictions, but also we’re able to be the good citizens that we’re called and invited to be? How do we bring all those things together? The problem is that when we go back to the first century, you know, that situation is so vastly different from what we find ourselves in today. The tax that is at the heart of the gospel today is what was called the poll tax by the Romans, and it was levied on every single human being, not just people who who earned any income, but everybody slaves and free, male and female, young and old, all alike were forced to pay this tax. And there were often households where there was only one person who was the breadwinner.

(00:02:25) – But they might have to pay the poll tax for like ten people. You know, if one of the parents is still living with you, and maybe there’s the maiden aunt and you’ve got the children, and maybe there’s a servant and somebody else that isn’t able to make their way through life, you know? So it’s not just one, one tax that you have to pay for this whole kind of group of people. And so there’s no wonder that people were pretty annoyed by this kind of taxation, unless you were. And Herodian and the Herodians were those who, as the name suggests, being in alignment with King Herod at the time. And so they saw themselves as being collaborators and cooperators with the Roman system, even though they were the oppressors, even though they were people who had by force just come in and conquered the nation of Israel, as has happened so many times in the last 500 years before this period. And so for the Herodians they thought, yes, of course, everyone should pay their fair share.

(00:03:29) – The Pharisees disagreed. The Pharisees normally would have said, no, we shouldn’t pay those taxes. Yes, we should pay the taxes to the temple. We should do all of that to contribute to God and to build and uphold the religious community, but not the civil. And so the fact that these two groups came together is another indication of what happens when people have this bee in their bonnet, when they’re trying to push home a point that is really not about the issue. The question that is being asked, as we hear in the Gospel of Matthew, they’ve come simply to try and trap Jesus. So the answer that he gives is both brilliant and wonderful, but it’s not an answer to every single question around taxation for the whole of human history. And we shouldn’t use it and manipulate it in that way, where the context of where this conversation is happening is within the temple precinct, and the reason that you have money changers set up around the edges of the temple forecourt and the temple precinct is so that people don’t have to bring coins that bear a false image, and that the coins that the that were used by the Roman government at the time bore not just the image of Caesar, but they declared him to be the August son of the divine Augustus.

(00:04:56) – And so to to make that declaration that. Holding within your hand the coin that is, of a divinity, that is, of someone who’s declaring themselves to be divine, is already blasphemous and an awful thing for any good Jew to do. And so they had this system where you could change your Roman coins and change them for Judean coins, for coins that didn’t have the image of the local Caesar, they didn’t have the image of a false god on them. So you didn’t have to carry around something that essentially made you go against the very first of the commandments. And yet what happens when Jesus says, well, show me one of the coins, and of course, one of the Herodians or one of the Pharisees whips one out from their pocket. So they haven’t gone through that process. They haven’t followed the requirements of the law to change their money from the Jewish, from the Roman coins to the Jewish coins. And so they’re already in breach. And so it’s like, oh, yeah, here’s one.

(00:05:55) – And they’re able just to hold it in front of Jesus. And so we already see Jesus going, ha, got you. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t use that. He’s not like me. I would have rammed that that point home and and and and like it’s just that the childishness that’s within me. But no, Jesus is just simply there just saying, okay, well who’s image? It’s not God, it’s not the Lord. It’s not the one that we’re meant to honor. It’s not the one that we’re meant to be paying our homage to. Well, give to him what belongs to Caesar, but to God. And this is the point to God. We are all to the one who has called us, the one who’s created us, the one who’s invited us into life. He’s not just about taxation. He’s not just about this little piddly amount. Yeah. When we often talk in church about how much do we owe back to God? You know, there’s the question of the tithe and the questions of at least contributing something back to God.

(00:06:53) – But no, God deserves all. He’s invited us into this very experience of life. God is the one who is allowing us the very mystery to breathe, the very mystery to receive from him. And so he doesn’t just deserve a little amount of our devotion. He doesn’t just deserve a little piddling time period that we set aside for him. He wants us all because he loves us all, and he wants us all so that we can find in that freedom. We can find in that offering of ourselves, the freedom to be able to then experience the fullness of life in God. And so let’s continue to really open ourselves to the God who’s always calling, always inviting, and always allowing us to experience that richness of life in him. So to God, let’s indeed surrender all and give all so that God might be the one that invites us more fully into life today.

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