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The Good Samaritan Tax Lawyer

A lawyer whose specialty was tax avoidance for rich clients and corporations stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who happened to be a tax lawyer, came near him while traveling; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’

Jesus then said, “The robber who attacked the man and left him for dead was still prowling along the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. He continued to victimize passing travelers. And there weren’t enough Samaritans to save them. The good Samaritan tax lawyer heard about this and decided to petition the government to tax the people so that there would be enough police to protect travelers on the road, enough social insurance to prevent poor people from even wanting to be robbers, and universal medical insurance to make sure that injured people always had access to doctors and rehabilitative care. The first good Samaritan argued for a progressive tax with a higher rate for higher-income people, uniformly and fairly applied.

“So which of these three, the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan tax lawyer, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy and made sure that others would not be similarly victimized, because he believed that everybody was his neighbor, even people he’d never met.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

(Riffed off Luke 10:25-37, NRSV Bible)


From DEEPER LOVE: Faithful Rhetoric for Progressive Social Change – a resource I edited for Progressive Christians Uniting – it will soon be published as a short book by St. Johann Press:

Taxes are the way that people of faith care for the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens, by funding our government’s social safety-net services. Charity through faith communities and other groups is a vital supplement, but no replacement, for the role we give our government in meeting critical human needs. For instance, Bread for the World, an evangelical Christian charity, estimates that the dollar value of all charitable food donations in the US adds up to only 6% of what the federal government spends on feeding hungry Americans through programs like EBT/Food Stamps and federally-subsidized school lunches.

The “Blessing of Taxes” in worship is a sacred re-affirmation of the blessings that flow from the taxes we pay: services to the poor and ailing; schools, roads, sanitation; public safety and defense; protection of the environment; and promotion of a healthier economy—to name a few. It is also a moment to recommit ourselves as citizens to shape the priorities that determine how our taxes are spent.

Some congregations place tax forms on the altar for a blessing on the weekend before taxes are due. Some pastors focus their sermons on the sacred duties of citizenship and on their visions for the ways that tax money should best be spent. Some congregations plan special discussions related to citizen activism and social issue awareness following worship.

The forms of the blessing differ, but the essential message is the same: we give thanks to the Love that is God for the good that comes through our taxes. They are a special form of our “offerings” in worship. Many blessings flow from them, and divine guidance is needed for us to have the wisdom to spend them for the best purposes.

In addition, we celebrate and bless all citizens who faithfully support their neighbors through payment of their taxes, remembering the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., that “taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”

Rev. Rich Lang’s “Tax Blessing”
Offered in worship at University Temple Methodist Church in Seattle on Palm Sunday, 2013

God of a love overwhelmingly awesome we reach out to Thee this day in the hope that a righteous shaking might come to our own beloved nation. As we offer our taxes may a renewed understanding arise that these monies are to be used for commonwealth so that all might have a roof over their head, food in their belly, health care for their bodies, safe streets for their security, just regulations for markets and commerce, and a peaceful transformation where swords are downsized so that that which builds health and hope are fully funded.[PL1] Remember our idealism o God, remember the sacred covenant we once made with you — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal, that all are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among the people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” — Remember o God the idealism of our birth and raise up for us new leaders who embody those dreams and hopes, and restore our people, o God — give us a future and the will to embody Your reign of Shalom. We pray in the Spirit of Jesus — Amen.
Website: JIMBURKLO.COM Weblog: MUSINGS Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California

Topics: Social & Environmental Ministry. 8 Points: Point 4: Act As We Believe. Ages: Adult, Teen, and Young Adult. Texts: Luke. Resource Types: Articles, Meditations, and Read.

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