Is Jesus’ talent story in Matthew 25:14-30 supposed to be about a kingdom of heaven in the hereafter, or is it about earthly citizenship? Does it make you wonder about the relation between God’s kingdom and civic duty? The illustration He borrows from the now certainly shows that Christian reflection about then has a place in the now. Thinking about now and then together does have its profit.
Taxes are very much a subject of the here and now, even if tax season is now in your rearview mirror and you wish it would stay there forever. No taxes in the hereafter, amen! Maybe. Because “taxes” may quite reasonably be thought of as simply another, smaller word for “accountability.” Granted, the bigger word may not even be part of any cerebral engram that includes the word “taxes.” “Evasion,” perhaps, given Americans’ annual success in withholding $385 billion from the government through questionable deductions, and even “flat-out lying.”1 Nevertheless, “taxes” are an accountability issue.
My taxes are somebody’s assessment of my level of accountability to the community. Ideally, I’m taxed because I’m responsible for costs that my tax levies will defray—such as building the roads on which I drive, or caring for law and order around town, or providing for the education of all the children in the neighborhood.
Often enough, funding these necessities evokes, for some segment of the populace, words such as “burden” and “unfair.” And taxes have not done much for their own likability with such names as “sin,” and “death.”
But more positive perspectives on accountability do exist—as illustrated by Jesus’ talent story. Note just three of the multitude of insights to be derived therefrom: First, nobody is asked more than is reasonable. In Jesus’ economy accountability relates directly to personal capacity. For Him it’s a matter of “each according to his ability” (Matt. 25:15). Second, faithfulness is the measure of good citizenship. In Jesus’ economy it’s the single valid consideration, and the focus of celebration, when assessment is conducted, and plaudits are accorded. Which is why citizen number 2 is as feted as citizen number 1, despite the latter ending up at 250 percent of the former. Third, sluggards do not fool the Boss: sloths, and sloth, will be appropriately judged.
In summary, I may not be the only one responsible; none of us is life’s final accountant (Jesus is); I may not contribute the most to defraying community expenses; but my responsibility as a citizen neither rises nor falls because of someone else’s largesse; nor shall I skimp because others do. Tax evasion deprives some countries of as much as 30 percent of their gross domestic product.2 And yet, whatever my attitude to earthly laws, however much they vary from heaven’s ideals, there is no evading my Master’s expectations. If my duty feels unfairly burdensome, it may be because of the inequity of human law. But it may also be because I do not yet understand my citizenship responsibility.
My notions of taxpaying may be too narrow. And that may be because I do not yet see my care for all my community’s children, or my interest in my neighbor’s safety through Jesus’ eyes. For Him my earthly citizenship is not in tension or contrast with my heavenly. As His next story (Matt. 25:31-46) and the other about my neighbor (Luke 10:30-37) both make clear. My “then” could not more completely depend on how I now relate to school kids and homeless folks at the community center (Matt. 25:31-46). Taxes are one of life’s certainties. Because accountability is inevitable: “Taxes” is just another word for “accountability.” n