The Cost of Inconvenience
Inconvenience comes in various forms. There are those ordinary, daily kinds of inconveniences. The car breaks down. The kids get sick. The store closes early. The fast food joint gives me a burger when I ordered chicken. And then there are the inconveniences that are accentuated by living in Africa. The water can go out for 3 weeks. There can be 10 hour spans without electricity. Taxis can be very hard to get and traffic can be very bad. At times it is too dusty and at other times far too muddy. Inconvenience is part of life anywhere.
But, what about those inconveniences that come along that we believe are unjust. It is one thing to be stuck in traffic but another thing entirely to be faced with taxes or rules that one feels are unfair. What about those inconveniences that don’t seem to make sense yet they cost us tons of time and money. What is a response to those inconveniences? Some people see the potential for cutting corners to try to make the system fairer or more “just” in their eyes, but my opinion is that this short term gain has long term consequences. I tend to think that Jesus thought the same way.
One time the question was posed to Jesus about whether taxes should be paid or not. Jesus’ audience was used to paying taxes. It is thought that the people of Jesus day faced a variety of taxes including; income tax, import and export taxes, crop taxes (1/10 of grain crop and 1/5 of wine, fruit, and olive oil), sales tax, property tax, emergency tax, toll taxes, and others. Some have said that the people of Rome may have paid upwards of 60% of their income in taxes. Whatever the rate, it seems to be clear in scripture that the taxes were considered oppressive and that they were open to extortion. However, when Jesus was questioned about the payment of taxes, he gave the following answer,
“So tell us honestly: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus knew they were up to no good. He said, “Why are you playing these games with me? Why are you trying to trap me? Do you have a coin? Let me see it.” They handed him a silver piece. “This engraving—who does it look like? And whose name is on it?” They said, “Caesar.” “Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.” The Pharisees were speechless. They went off shaking their heads.” Matthew 22:17-22 (The Message)
What does it mean to give Caesar what is Caesar’s and to give God what is God’s? I think it is interesting to consider it in light of Romans 13:1. “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” This same government to whom Jesus told them to pay taxes is also seen as being under God’s rule, having been established by Him. God has ordained government and the rulers within the government. He rules over it and sets the very ruler in place who extracts taxes from His people. So, Jesus’ words are not to set up a dichotomyof what is government’s and what is God’s, but rather to demonstrate that God’s rule includes governments that we then are called to submit to.
Jesus even demonstrates this when the time came for taxes to be paid. He told the disciples to look in the mouth of a fish where they found the coin necessary to pay the tax with. Jesus did not get an exemption to paying taxes, however God did demonstrate His rule over the system as He provided miraculously for the payment of the tax. In Matthew 17, it appears that Jesus makes a case for why he and the disciples might not need to pay the temple tax, but then He continues, “BUT so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch, open its mouth and you will find a four drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” Imagine Jesus, The Son of God, the Ruler of All who here is careful to not offend and therefore He pays His share of a tax that many would consider unjust and unfair. It is a stunning example of God both bringing the systems of this world in under His rule while also calling us as His followers to submit to His rule and the rule of those systems that are in the process of being redeemed.
Of course, we don’t have to feel that taxes or rules are fair and in some systems there is the capacity to appeal with our voices or votes when things are becoming oppressive. However, at the end of the day there is the duty placed upon us to follow the rules no matter how inconvenient and to pay that which we are called to pay. Paul’s counsel to us is to act out of conscience rather than fear of punishment and to, “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” Romans 13:7
The reason that I am blogging about this is because over the past few weeks we have been presented with various scenarios in which the inconvenience of submitting to the rules came with a cost. One happened when we bought our van. We had agreed on a price which I paid to the owner. However, when we were drafting the contract, he wrote down a price that was almost $2,000 USD less than we were paying because then the taxes would be much less. I disagreed with him and asked that we put the full price on the contract. It was hard for him to understand why I would want to pay the government the full price of taxes, but he complied and let me pay the extra tax.
A second happened when we were ready to sign the agreement for our house. When we arrived at the signing meeting I was told that there were two contracts for me to sign. One was the contract between the house owner and us for the full price. The other was a contract that was going to be presented to the tax authority which only reflected half the price of the agreement which could help the owner avoid paying taxes that he felt were oppressive. I refused and a large inconvenience ensued as we almost did not get a contract as it took an hour of decision making. We were misunderstood about how we would choose to put the house owner in a tight spot of having to pay this tax which he felt was unfair. We were not trying to put anyone in a tight spot, but rather simply trying to act in integrity.
Then last week we found out about some new laws that have been put in place here. The one says that we have to leave the country every 90 days. This is inconvenient. For one, it costs a lot of money for our family of 6 to leave the country every 90 days and it also takes a lot of time. It was not convenient for us to rush out of the country to make sure that we could abide by this new rule. Yet, there is something to be said for trying to act in integrity and follow the law which we are called to follow as guests of this country as well as citizens of the Kingdom of God. Along with this is a rule that we will not be able to “work” which includes being a volunteer until we receive a work permit. This is inconvenient. There is much work to do. We would love to dig in and get started. Yet, this is a rule which the government has put in place as law, and therefore we are called to comply with it. It is not convenient, yet we feel that there is something to be said for trying to do things the right way. We try to rest in God while knowing that He rules and is sovereignly in control of all things – He has not missed a detail along the way. We will try to do all things as expediently as possible, yet in the end we are in submission to the government and their decisions while also feeling confident that The Lord led us here in the first place.
The right way seems inconvenient in the short term, yet in the long term we have the trust that God will see it through. After all, He is bringing all things in under His rule – and He will see that all things are made right in the end. While no one likes to pay taxes or follow rules that they believe to be unfair, we have one constant reminder of who Jesus is and what He is doing. We are reminded that the final word is that, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15 – 17