Take a Stress Deduction This Tax Year
Time to File Your Taxes!
It's that time of year again! Each year, just after January 1st, stress levels begin to escalate and continue to increase as the tax filing deadline approaches (Note: For 2015 tax returns, the normal April 15th filing deadline is moved to Monday, April 18, 2016 due to Washington, D.C. celebrating Emancipation Day on Friday, April 15th.) Across the United States, taxpayers search for misplaced receipts, race to meet the tax filing deadline, and grumble and complain at how much they paid in taxes (or, with horror, how much still needs to be paid!).
Taxpayers have access to advice on how to organize, prepare, and file taxes, and need the same advice for how to handle the extra stress at tax time. A good place to start is to look at someone who successfully navigated tax season with no stress at all: Jesus. It is widely known that Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Jesus backed up this statement by His actions: He honored the government’s authority and paid His taxes, but He didn’t stop there.
We can learn from Jesus how to get through this year’s tax season with minimal stress and maximum peace. Based on His life, there are three tips for a stress-free tax season:
#1 - Pay Your Taxes (All of Them)
When Jesus and His disciples were in Capernaum, one of the disciples, Peter, was approached by the tax man. This particular tax man collected taxes for the temple, a tax of two-drachma per person (equivalent to 38 cents). After Peter left the tax man, he met up with Jesus. Before Peter could say anything, Jesus started talking to him about taxes, and implied that as the Son of God, He was exempt from paying taxes. However, He ended the discussion with:
”But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” (Matthew 17:24-27)
Jesus did not worry, stress out, grumble, or complain about the taxes He owed, and He didn’t try to get out of paying them. He didn’t cheat by paying less than He owed. He simply paid His taxes, and generously paid Peter’s tax, too!
The Bible records Jesus performing many miracles, but this is the only one related to taxes. This story stands out for other reasons, too. First, it is a one-of-a-kind miracle, recorded only once in the Bible. Most people are familiar with stories of Jesus feeding thousands of people and healing the sick; these were recorded multiple times in the Bible. The story of the fish with a coin in its mouth is not as widely known, perhaps because it was only recorded in one book of the Bible, the Gospel of Matthew.
Second, Jesus performed this miracle for His own benefit. Jesus’ miracles were normally for the benefit of others, to meet their needs, but this one stands out as one He did to meet His own need. Last, this miracle has overtones of humor that are not found in Jesus’ other recorded miracles. The events are almost whimsical in nature. Peter must have laughed when he caught the fish and found the coin. Jesus might have smiled when Peter cleaned the slimy coin and handed it to the tax man, thinking “If he only knew where it came from.”
The Lesson: The simplest way to alleviate stress at tax season is to pay your taxes, pay all of them, and pay them promptly without grumbling or complaining.
#2 - The Tax Man is Just a Man
The tax man has always been reviled and despised. As far back as biblical times, people did not like the tax man, and tax collectors were lumped right in there with other “sinners”. Yet, Jesus took a different approach.
Rather than despising and looking down on tax collectors, Jesus accepted an invitation to a great banquet thrown for Him by a tax collector. Shocked and surprised, the religious leaders asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (Mark 2:15-16). The Pharisees could think of no good reason to associate with tax collectors, but Jesus did.
The Pharisees had the same opinion we have today: The tax man is an awful person that should be avoided, and certainly not associated with. However, Jesus saw the tax collectors as flesh and blood men who had to eat a meal, just the rest of us. They are human beings, just doing their job, trying to earn a living, with dreams, goals, physical frailty, feelings, and families, just like the rest of us.
The Lesson: If faced with a letter from the IRS or an income tax audit, don’t panic. Remember that the tax man is just that, a man (or woman). The IRS is made up of people. Change your preconceived negative notion that the tax man is a terrible person. Approach all tax matters with a positive attitude, and focus on the humanity we all share.
#3 - Give the Tax Man the Benefit of the Doubt
Jesus didn’t stop at having dinner with the tax man; He went so far as to invite the tax man to join His inner circle of closest friends. One of the first apostles to hear Jesus say, “Follow me” was Matthew, a tax collector. This was no mistake; Matthew was sitting in the tax booth, collecting taxes, when Jesus issued the life changing invitation (Matthew 9:9).
The lesson here is not to run out and become best friends with a tax collector, but something deeper. This prejudice against the tax man has been around for centuries. Isn’t it about time for a change?
Jesus’ inner circle of twelve disciples was a small, close group of trusted associates, much like the inner circle of advisors to the President of the United States, or a group of vice presidents to the president of a bank. Jesus invited Matthew (also known as Levi) to join His inner circle. Jesus did not exclude him just because he was a tax collector. Rather, He gave Matthew the same opportunity as the other disciples. Jesus gave the tax man the benefit of the doubt, and gave him a chance.
Remember, it was not Matthew, the tax man, who betrayed Jesus. It was Judas, the guy in charge of the finances (Matthew 26:14-16). Jesus did not assume the tax man was a bad guy just because he was the tax man, and we should not either.
The Lesson: Alleviate the stress of tax season by giving the tax man the benefit of the doubt and treating him or her as you would like to be treated: with respect, courtesy, and kindness. If Jesus had one out of twelve disciples betray him, then we can expect there may be a few abusive IRS agents out there, too, but we should give the tax man the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise, just like Jesus did with His disciples.
Summary of Tips
Taxes are a fact of life, a fact that even Jesus had to deal with. His example reveals tips for a stress-free tax season:
- Pay all taxes (don’t cheat)
- Don’t grumble and complain about taxes
- Approach all tax matters with a positive attitude
- Remember, the IRS agents are human beings, too
- Don’t be prejudiced against the IRS agents; instead, treat them like any other person (with courtesy, respect, and yes, even kindness)
Instead of avoidance, embrace this tax season with a positive attitude. Be proactive, apply these tips, and expect to get through this tax season with minimum stress and maximum peace. There are a lot of stressed people out there, so be a positive force of courtesy, respect, and kindness to all, including the tax man.
Follow these tips and then celebrate the end of this tax season for two reasons: (1) It is over, and (2) you made it through with less stress and anxiety compared to years past. The reward will be a peaceful, good night’s sleep come April 15th.