By Frank Wessling
Lent always comes around during the time of year when we’re thinking about the income tax return; a holy season to take our minds off of that painful duty of citizenship.
Or is this a combined season of holiness, at least for Christians and thoughtful citizens?
Consider holiness as wholeness: that is basic to its meaning. We Christians hear a call each Lent to focus ourselves wholly on the journey of life with Christ. We try giving more of ourselves to prayer. We try to give up, to fast from, some of the habits that feed our appetites. We try to make ourselves quiet and empty of grasping so we might better feel our dependence and hope in God.
And we share more of ourselves with the poor, in imitation of Jesus who gave everything.
Paying taxes in a society like ours isn’t completely separate from that spiritual energy — at least it shouldn’t be. Part of the taxes we pay goes to help poor people, part goes to heal the sick, part goes to bring dignity and consolation to the afflicted, including the unemployed fathers and mothers of families.
We don’t know the people whose lives are better because of our taxes: there are too many and they are too scattered. They are part of us, though; part of the community that sustains us all. A mark of good citizenship is the breadth of our vision: accepting the whole body as our concern, not merely a part that feels comfortable.
Jesus used a Roman coin to point out that we do not have two separate identities, one religious and one secular. The one unified person who is a child of God has duties of citizenship along with duties of faith. As we prepare the tax forms that “render to Caesar” the coin of our lives, it makes sense to connect that dimension of life with the Christian duty of fasting and charity during Lent. The total result should be a more wide awake, disciplined and aware member of God’s people.
Voting and working to shape the way our taxes are used is part of what the good citizen does. Seeing part of the money we’ve earned go off into a vast and foggy taxland can feel like nothing more than loss if we don’t reflect on the full meaning of citizenship. Think about taxes not as loss; but as payment due for the benefits and blessing of community.
The alternative this side of heaven is anarchy and chaos.