Catholics wondering how honest they have to be when filling in their tax returns receive a clear answer in the Gospel. A delegation sent by Pharisees and Herodians once asked Our Lord if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Their intention was to push Him between a rock and a hard place. Were He to say no, then they could denounce Him to the Roman authorities for sedition. If He answered yes, the result would be hysteria from the puritanical Jewish zealots. Our Lord pulled the rug from under all of them by requesting a coin and asking: “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They could only answer “Caesar’s”, to which He replied: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mt 22:15-22, Mk 12:13-17, Lk 20:21-26)
However much we might mistrust the government, and even if some of us might question the morality of income tax in principle, as law-abiding subjects we have to pay our dues like everyone else. On the dreadful Day of Judgment it will be the emperors of this world who will have to answer for how these revenues have been spent.
The truth is that Our Lord was not particularly interested in that coin, or in the image that was engraved on it. What interests Him is the image that every human being, including Caesar, carries on his soul. “Let us make man in our image”, says God in the first chapter of Genesis. This image of God lies in our immortal soul, and is to be found in our capacity to know and to love. It is this divine image that makes every innocent human life inviolable and sacred to God, from conception into eternity.
When we lose sight of this wondrous reality, the results can only be dire. The human race in ‘the West’ seems to have been going through an identity crisis for some decades. That weird and not so wonderful creature whom twentieth-century theologians categorised as ‘Modern Man’ has been conditioned to think of himself as nothing more than a developed ape, with the consequence that the animal part of human nature – the emotions – often trumps over reason. In this climate, we should learn to recognize and to welcome any signs that the prevailing cult of sentimentalism has not yet become a fully-ensconced tyranny. The recent defeat of the Assisted Dying Bill in the House of Commons is one such indication. Many self-appointed policy-formers, in collusion with much of the media, have been successful in creating the impression that legalized ‘mercy killing’ is an inevitability in a modern secular society. The fact that there are still enough people in our elected Parliament who recognize the intrinsic difference between a suffering animal and a terminally ill human being to block such a bill has given heart to those who care about the sanctity of human life.
This wondrous image of God in the human soul which is a part of human nature and therefore common to all, has of course been disfigured by sin. In coming to redeem us, Our Lord intends to restore it to perfection. In addition to the image of God which belongs to our nature, He also comes to elevate us to His supernatural likeness. We receive this in the Sacrament of Baptism, when Sanctifying Grace is infused into our hearts and we are raised up to a participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity.
The greatest treasures in the hoard of a coin collector are those issues which are rare and beautiful. A dedicated connoisseur will sacrifice much to acquire a prize that is unique. To God, each and every human soul is unique and infinitely precious. Our Lord was willing to give every drop of His Precious Blood on the Cross, not just for the human race as a whole, but for each one of us individually. In so redeeming us, He takes possession of us, elevating us to that Divine Likeness which is a share in His own life.
Most of us probably pay our taxes without much enthusiasm. We render to the Inland Revenue what we are required to by law. Heaven forbid that we should ever become so begrudging in the tribute that we render to God. If our spiritual lives are reduced to avoiding mortal sin and grudgingly obeying commandments and rules (“Father, which parts of the Mass do I have to be present for to fulfil my obligation?” is a classic instance of treating-God-like-the-taxman) then we end up spiritually impoverished. The benefits which earthly governments provide in return for taxation are sometimes of dubious value. In return for our hearts and souls, Almighty God promises us untold riches and everlasting happiness with Him in Heaven. Let us render ourselves to Him generously and without reserve.
Fr Julian Large