Tag Archives: debt

Death & Taxes: Overcome, But Still Hated?

Day_Death_Died_The_std_t_nvBenjamin Franklin is credited with the famous statement that nothing in life is as certain as death and taxes. But, believe it or not, April 15th and Federal income taxes haven’t always been a part of American life. In fact, it wasn’t until 1913 when the 16th amendment was ratified that individual taxation began in America.

It was 1954, though, that solidified April 15th as the day that many Americans dread. But did you know that Congress made April 15th the day in order to try to help make life easier for Americans, not hurt them?

 You see, March 15th used to be Tax Day until 1954 when the government moved it to April 15th. The reason? Well, there were two: 1) They were trying to give people an extra month to recover from Christmas debt, and 2) they were trying to get away from an ancient Roman stigma of the Ides of March, the date of Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44BC. It was known throughout history as an “unlucky day.”

That’s right! Tax Day used to be even more depressing! Believe it or not, as people were still reeling from Christmas debt, they joked about the dreaded Tax Day and the Ides of March, thereby immortalizing Benjamin Franklin’s statement – “Death & Taxes.”

Long before taxes were joked about and hated by many Americans, and long before tea parties in Boston (or anywhere else), people have always had issues with tax day and the taxman. But before you complain about taxes or make that favorite IRS joke, keep in mind, you may not be thinking the way Jesus did!

 In the Bible, we read a lot about death and taxes. Jesus hated one and gave appropriate respect to the other. Want to guess which was which?

 For your consideration:

  1. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Jesus went to his house, ate with him, and helped him to get on the right spiritual path (Luke 19:1-10).
  2. Matthew was a tax collector who Jesus made one of His disciples. He ate at Matthew’s house with many of Matthew’s tax-collector friends (Matthew 9).
  3. Jesus instructed Peter to pay them so as to not “offend” (Matthew 17:27).
  4. Jesus, confirmed that one should “”Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).

Meanwhile:

  1. Jesus was moved deeply (angry) with the fact of death (John 11:33).
  2. Jesus had victory over death in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:57).
  3. Jesus tells us that death will be thrown in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14).

Taxes aren’t my favorite thing, but I know they serve a purpose. And I know that if my concentration is on April 15th woes, then my focus is off of Jesus. Have you submitted to Him? He paid the debt He didn’t owe because of the debt we couldn’t pay…the ultimate tax! And He overcame death for us. Give it some thought…

A Rosh Hashanah Dilemma: To Shemittah or Prozbul

Our_Canceled_Debts_00034664Ok. Odds are, my title either piqued your interest or made you turn to something else without reading any further. If you are still with me, I want to discuss how an ancient Jewish holiday will reveal something about your faith and your Christianity today. It begins with the holiday, Rosh Hashanah, the “Head of the New Year.”

Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of a New Year on the Jewish calendar. It is a time for reflection as the Jewish people head into Yom Kippur, the High Holy Day of Atonement. And this year, there is something special about Rosh Hashanah…it is a “Shemittah,” literally “remittance” or “release,” 7th year, lasting from September 25, 2104 to September 13, 2015.

Shemittah, found in Deuteronomy 15, is a year in which Jews practiced forgiveness of debt and a rest for the land. Few Jews, primarily only the very religious farmers in Israel, still practice the “land rest” portion of this holiday. But it is the forgiveness of debt that is much more applicable…and controversial. And believe it or not, the controversy dates back almost 2,000 years.

You see, even before the days of Jesus, Jews were trying to find a “loophole” on the forgiveness of debt. They lived in a “modern” society. They did not want to forgive debts. Even worse, repayment concerns caused the wealthy to avoid lending as the 7th year approached. Poor people could not get access to badly needed funds, and God’s laws were being abused and trampled.

So Rabbi Hillel provided a solution. He decided that only “private” debts needed to be cancelled. His reasoning? Deuteronomy 15 mentions loan forgiveness to a “friend” or “brother.” He therefore instituted a complicated legal system of “Prozbul” where you can temporarily (say for a year or so) turn over your debt collection to a court. Courts, after all, are not my friend, neighbor, or brother. Orthodox Jews still use this system today (see www.chabad.org). So, problem solved! At the end of the year, you can demand your debts back from the court and all is good.

Or is it? What level of tolerance does God have for loopholes? Jesus challenged Hillel’s prevailing ‘idea of the day’ in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He challenged the Jews to understand that their “neighbor” isn’t just the person living next to them. Rather, we are all created in God’s image and we are all inextricably connected. It is the one who does God’s will that is the real neighbor. He also challenged us to forgive our debtors as we are forgiven of our debts by God.

So, here’s my application, Christians: 1) Do you see those outside the church as your friend, brother, and neighbor? If not, Jesus would challenge you to start treating them as the Good Samaritan did. And, 2) Though you probably don’t celebrate tomorrow as your “New Year,” why not put into practice the spiritual principle of forgiveness this year? Are you harboring resentment? Do you hold an old debt? In this year of release, why not begin by reconciling with those who you should be treating like a brother. Forgive. Christ did, and He calls each of us to do the same.