Monday, April 15, 2019

Paying Taxes For Offensive Tofu - A Tax Day Special

While I was in college, the patriarch of a Vietnamese family two doors down died and I was invited to a series of memorial meals in the weeks following his death. At the final, most elaborate meal, the matriarch prepared her famous tofu. Now let me say clearly, I despise tofu. I can't stand it. Thinking about eating tofu makes me almost as sick as thinking about eating bananas (another long story). But she had made it especially for this occasion and would have been offended if I hadn't eaten a heaping portion. So I took some, ate it with a smile, and when I started to feel sick I left the table discreetly and came back a few minutes later. I could have simply turned her down. In America grown adults do normally have the right to not eat foods we don't like. But in order to maintain a fledgling relationship with this lady and her family I chose not to offend them and I ate the food I couldn't stand.

In Matthew 17, the local collector came to Peter to ask if Jesus intended to pay the temple tax that all Jewish men were required to pay to maintain the temple. Jesus asked Peter a question to remind Peter that Jesus, as the Son of God, should have been exempt from paying such a tax. But then Jesus added, "But, so we won’t offend them, go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and take the first fish that you catch. When you open its mouth you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for Me and you” (Matthew 17:27, HCSB). Jesus didn't have to pay the temple tax but he chose not to offend these people who wouldn't understand.

Now, Jesus had no problem offending people when he felt it was necessary. Repeatedly, his disciples asked him if he knew he had offended the Pharisees or the Sadducees with a parable or a teaching he had just offered. On several occasions Jesus called those two groups broods of vipers or some other name they would have found offensive because of their exalted positions in the community. But the only reason Jesus would have had for being offensive in this situation would have been insisting on his own right as God not to pay for his own temple. Jesus decided that insisting on his own rights wasn't something that was worth offending others.

If we live Christ-like lives we will have plenty of opportunities to offend people, when it will, in fact, be necessary to offend people. But we should never offend people for the sake of offending them or if there are other ways to accomplish what has to be done. If we follow Jesus' example, we must remember that maintaining our own rights is not a good enough reason to risk damaging our relationship with someone. Our reasons for offending people should always center around what is best for them, never around what is best for us.

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