From the tax collectors of the biblical times to the Philippine Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) today, the tax man has received more than his share of contempt, despise, and even ridicule. In the New Testament of the Bible, the occupation of “tax collector” was looked down upon by the public.
The Pharisees mentioned their mockery on the tax collectors in one of their scholarly talk with Jesus Christ. These Pharisees asked the disciples of Jesus on why their master eats with “tax collectors and sinners.” To a Pharisee, a “sinner” is a Jew who did not follow the Law of Moses; on the other hand a tax collector is the person they look down on a different category, as if the term “sinner” is not enough to cover their kind.
Given their bad reputation, it is remarkable that Jesus still decided to be with them. The reason that he was on a meal with many tax collectors is Matthew, a tax collector, to be one of his twelve disciples. Matthew wanted his friends to meet the Christ, so he threw a feast for them and invited Jesus. The Christ responded to the Pharisees’ annoyance by stating his core mission: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
He said further to the haughty Pharisees, “Truly, I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John (the Baptist) came to you to show the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”
Jesus was very aware of the awful repute of tax collectors, in his teachings, the Christ used the general opinion of tax collectors as an illustration when a person is excommunicated in the church; Jesus said to “treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” In short, the excommunicated is considered an outsider and a candidate for evangelism.
In the present times, similar to the biblical era, no one wants to pay money to the government, especially when the government is an oppressive regime like the old Roman Empire. Today, under the light of democracy, we may not be living under an oppressive regime, however, the primary reason people are not encouraged to pay proper taxes is the corruption in public governance, the abusive people in power that treats our tax contribution as their personal coffers for private luxury.
The Office of the BIR Commissioner is an office hated by many taxpayers. Revenue officers who are doing the legal mandate of their jobs are viewed as people that strip hard earned money from their countrymen. Though it would be unfair to conclude that they are evil indeed, it is hard for the society not to think that way considering the reputation of the corrupt government. After all, tax collectors can always pass the blameworthiness to the cheating taxpayer, admittedly they have the reputation of corrupt and extortionists, but for them, big businessmen are viewed to have the habit of tax evading. Tax collectors can always answer back to their critics that it takes two to tango, for every sinful tax collector; there are two or more sinful taxpayers.
The tax collectors in the Bible were seen as traitors, they were Jews who were working for the hated Romans and enriching themselves at the expense of their fellow Jews, this set up is also present in our present tax collection system, the BIR is seen as traitor to the public in collecting money from people only to be stolen by the those in power.
In the Bible, Zacchaeus confessed to the Messiah his dishonesty in stealing from tax money. In the Philippines, I am yet to see somebody who will do the same, here, corruption is so rampant and of public knowledge, yet, public officials keep on projecting a saint-like character. The saddest part of this is that the people keep on voting these false saints.
Like how many of us see corrupt politicians, the Pharisees saw tax collectors as enemies to be despised. Jesus Christ however saw them as spiritually sick that needs healing. Pharisees could offer nothing but teachings in the scrolls to be followed to the letter, Jesus offered forgiveness and the hope of a new beginning. No wonder sinners and tax collectors want to spend time with Jesus more. Tax Collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus were changed by the moving power of Christ’s teaching and became a follower.
Income taxes, excise taxes, value-added tax, estate tax, real property tax, capital gains – the list could go on and on and on. Arguably, 15th of April, tax deadline, is the most stressful day of the year. As much as we hate taxes, as much as the tax system is corrupted and unjust, as much as our money could provide us better things instead, taxes are here to stay and we are bound to pay it all the days of our earthly lives. “Death and Taxes” as the saying goes, though those two are really an odd pair, they are there to dwell in our society for good.
The Holy Book similarly encourages us to pay taxes and contribute. Jesus taught to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Apostle Paul, on the other hand said in agreement that, “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
The most repeated doubt to giving taxes is that the money is being misused by the government or even used for purposes that instead of promoting the welfare of the people, it destroys. That however, should not be our concern in paying. When Jesus mentioned “give to Caesar,” it referred to the unrighteous Roman government. When Paul instructed the church to pay taxes, the evil emperor Nero was the head of the government. We are to pay our taxes even when the government is not a righteous one. However, please take note that this does not mean that we should not fight for righteousness in an immoral regime.
To the corrupt tax collector of today, may you find relevance to the words of John the Baptist; “collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Together, let us dream and work for a Republic where our taxes are accounted for to the last centavo by honest people in the government, for being a tax collector is not an inherently evil occupation. God bless the Philippines.
Often recalcitrant, but always principled.