Did Jesus pay taxes?

In all likelihood, he did. The Roman tax system made it virtually impossible for anyone to avoid paying taxes.

If you raised crops, produced oil or wine from your vineyard, traveled on roads and over bridges, imported or exported goods, docked at a harbor or received an income from an employer or as a self-employed person, you paid taxes.

Furthermore, a temple tax was levied upon worshippers who made their way to Jerusalem.

Voluntary contributions did not provide sufficient revenue for the upkeep of the temple and for the payment of many priests and Levites.

Death and taxes. These two certainties have been with us for centuries.

Did Jesus complain about paying taxes? There is no record of him doing this.

I do believe, however, Jesus talked with others about taxes, beginning with one of his own disciples.

Levi was a tax collector. This must have led to many interesting conversations around a crackling fire late at night. Surely, Jesus and the disciples quizzed Levi about his occupation and business practices.

Jesus’ conversations about taxes were not limited to his disciples, though.

When some of the teachers of the law and chief priests sought ways to discredit Jesus and to undermine his influence, they publicly asked him if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. They were confident they had laid the perfect trap for him.

After asking for a coin and turning their attention to the emperor’s image stamped on it, Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17).

His detractors scattered without a rebuttal, disgusted with their attempts to humiliate Jesus and to silence his voice.

There was another time the issue of collecting taxes took center stage in Jesus’ ministry. Zacchaeus was the main character in this story.

Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in Jericho, which meant he was a part of the corrupt and burdensome Roman tax system.

This method of collecting taxes offered many opportunities for exploitation and fraud. It appears Zacchaeus took advantage of those opportunities.

Jesus stopped and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home the day he and the disciples traveled through Jericho on their way to Jerusalem to observe Passover.

This shocked and angered many people. They felt Jesus bestowed a degree of honor upon Zacchaeus he did not deserve.

We do not know what was said in the privacy of Zacchaeus’ home, but we do know one result of their candid conversation.

“Look, Lord! Here and now, I give half my possessions to the poor. If I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount,” Zacchaeus abruptly declared (Luke 19:8).

Notice what he did not say. “Look, Lord! Here and now, I shall resign as the chief tax collector in Jericho. I’ll have nothing to do with collecting taxes anymore.”

It appears quitting was never Jesus’ intent for Zacchaeus. Being honest and fair was.

Choosing right over wrong, truth over deception, community over corruption, people over possessions, accountability over arrogance, generosity over greed, justice over injustice and the Golden Rule over gold was what Jesus wanted for Zacchaeus.

Jesus wanted this man who had a reputation for being selfish, greedy and corrupt to become a person known for his integrity, compassion and generosity.

And as far as Jesus was concerned, Zacchaeus could continue to be the chief tax collector and be this kind of person.

For Jesus, taxes were not the problem as much as corruption was.

Paying taxes is the duty of every responsible citizen. It is one way healthy communities are created and sustained. Everyone who is able needs to pay for the goods and services none of us can produce or afford on our own.

As U.S. citizens, we are fortunate to have a say in how our taxes are levied, collected and distributed. We must participate in these discussions.

Don’t let the scope and size of local or national budgets intimidate you. Don’t let cynicism silence you. The stakes are too high.

In government, the gospel shows up in budgets. Values and priorities are identified in dollars and cents.

While there will be a variety of ideas and opinions expressed on the way taxes are levied and distributed, as followers of Jesus we can speak with one voice when we call for transparency, honesty, compassion and justice.

I believe this is what Jesus would like us to talk about instead of ranting and raving about taxes.

Bob Browning is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series on taxation. The first article in the series is:

Graduated Income Tax Creates Fair System for Everyone by Ralph Martire

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