Radio Leicester Thought for the Day

John Denney, 22 March 2000


So.  No more secrets.  The Chancellor has spoken.  The budget has been announced.  And depending on our circumstances and whether we smoke or drink or drive, we might be a little better off, or a little worse off.   


As they say, there’s only two things in life that are certain: death and taxes.  Although income tax has only been around for a couple of centuries, before that there were all sorts of taxes that people had to pay.  There used to be a window tax, that led to people living in dark and gloomy rooms because they couldn’t afford to pay up. There was a poll tax in the 14th Century that led to the peasants’ revolt led by Wat Tyler and Jack Straw.  No, not him!  Even the famous Domesday Book was compiled so that William the Conqueror could tax the kingdom he had acquired.


One of England’s great historical figures, John Wyclif, who was Rector of Lutterworth in the 1380s, preached against the taxes demanded by the Pope.  Every hearth had to pay a penny – and that’s when a penny would feed a family for a week and still have something left over.  Those “Peter’s Pence” (as they were called) were sent to support the corrupt Roman churchmen, who lived in luxury at the expense of the poor and needy.


Jesus taught us something about paying our taxes.  In His time, the Romans had conquered Israel and demanded heavy taxes from the Israelites.  There was a spirit of rebellion against paying the tax, and someone asked Jesus whether it was right to pay.  This was a trick question.  If Jesus said, “don’t pay”, Roman spies would have him arrested for stirring up rebellion.  If Jesus said, “Pay the tax”, then Jesus would be branded a collaborator with the enemy and therefore an enemy of God and the Jews.  But Jesus was cleverer than them.  He borrowed a coin, and, showing the head of Caesar on one side of the coin said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”.  And then he flipped the coin over and showed the other side, where there was a picture of an olive branch, which the Jews knew as a symbol of God’s love for them.  And Jesus said “And give to God what belongs to God.”


And what Jesus is telling us is to pay our fair whack.  No buying under-the-counter cigarettes or off-the-back-of-a-lorry booze.  Because that way, we’re stealing from everyone else.  And one of God’s rules for a healthy community is: “Thou shalt not steal”.


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