The idiom ‘nothing so certain as death and taxes’ seems to have been around for 300 years. Wikipedia traces it back to a book by Christopher Bullock entitled ‘The Cobbler of Preston’ although Daniel Defoe and Benjamin Franklin also get a mention in the Wikipedia entry.
My introduction to taxation was in 1972 when I received my first ever payslip for a Saturday job at a supermarket. Three pence had been deducted from my £1.50 pay for National Insurance, a tax that those who work in the UK still pay, along with many others. When I joined the Merchant Navy as a cadet in October 1973 my £43 monthly salary was too low to attract income tax, but National Insurance was there with a deduction of £2.85. Incredibly, my employer even took £2.50 from my first wage to pay for the cap badge that was part of my uniform.
The Roman tax collectors of New Testament times seem to have been as despised as their modern day equivalents. Tax collection was a profitable business then. It appears that the financial rewards outweighed the opinions held by society about the character of those who chose this profession. Fortunately for the tax collectors Jesus was more interested in them as people than in their line of work. Jesus ate at the same table as tax collectors and even recruited a tax collector to his team of disciples.
When challenged by the religious establishment about His choice of friends Jesus made it quite clear that He was there for those who recognised their need, not those strutting around town with a religious superiority complex.
But taxes remained inevitable. When necessary Jesus paid His taxes – miraculously on one occasion (Matthew 17:24-27). I wonder if recognition of inevitability is the key here? Jesus knew that He was going to die a terrible death, yet he spent His time mixing with ordinary people, doing both ordinary things and extraordinary things. Sadly even the extraordinary things were not enough to convince most of society that they needed to do something in their lives about the inevitability of those lives coming to an end.
Two thousand years later the inevitability of death and taxes remains. But there is a place beyond death that is tax and duty free – a place where the risen Jesus waits to greet those who through the ages have recognised their need for Him. This is a place where death is not the inevitable end of life but the beginning. It is how we live our lives and who we live them for that determines what the inevitability will mean.
If you are reading this and have never met Jesus then my prayer is that you would imagine Him seated at your table, sharing a meal with you and your family. He doesn’t care whether the table is a dusty floor or an oak masterpiece. It is you He is interested in. All He is waiting for is an invitation.
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.
Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13 NIV)