There are big debates today over taxes. There are those who favor cutting taxes for the wealthy so that money can trickle down. There are those who favor cutting taxes for the middle class and raising taxes for the wealthy so that money can trickle up. There are those who favor a flat tax. There are those for big government and more taxes. There are those for small government and fewer taxes. Whatever your opinion is, we all must admit that concerning taxes, we are far better off than it was in Jesus’ day.
In Jesus’ day, Palestine was under Roman oppression and the tax system was unjust and very corrupt taking advantage of the poor so that the wealthy empire of Rome with its powerful war machine could operate and its rulers live a luxurious life. Now some would say that it is the same in our day, but stay with me for a minute.
In Jesus’ day, the emperor of Rome would decide how much it would take to not only run his government and big war machine, but also how much he would need to live a luxurious life. He would charge the governors of the providences under roman occupation and oppression to collect a tax that would support what was needed for Rome. The governor of the providence would then decide how much he needed to live a luxurious life and would increase the percentage of taxes to be collected for his cut before passing the rest to Rome. The governor hired tax collectors from the people who were oppressed and allowed them to raise the tax percentage collected however much they wanted to take their cut of the tax pie.
Needless to say, tax collectors were very wealthy and very much disliked. Jesus called Levi out of tax collecting and into following Him.
He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him. (Mark 2:13-14 ESV)