“Jesus saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’” (Matt 9:9).
It is perhaps coincidence that the Lectionary reading for today is about taxes. Jesus chooses a tax collector to be part of his band of disciples. If religious art predisposes us to think of the disciples as “spiritual” people detached from worldly things, we are reminded today that a carpenter chose fishermen, a tax collector, others who were political activists (zealots) and laymen and women of unknown or dubious backgrounds to help advance his vision of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Taxes are the lifeblood of any governed society. The United States was founded with the assertion that taxation and representation go together. Freedom to pursue happiness includes equal economic opportunity. Income inequality, a political system that is “rigged” to serve Big Money, threatens the social compact.
Jesus preached a world of right relationships, first with God, then among neighbors. Such a world would prioritize values. By meeting basic necessities, people would be able to seek the higher goals of maturity and spiritual wisdom, thus advancing human dreams toward the divine plan, the Beloved Community.
It is this confluence we pray for today: a world in which just laws and compassion create a global neighborhood in which everyone is respected, children, the elderly and infirm are cared for, shared resources are protected, the freedom to learn, grow, create and celebrate life is guaranteed for all.
The alternative is fear-driven competition, political corruption, endless conflict and societies seething with resentment and tension. Among the many ideas proposed for human collaboration toward the common good, the American experiment we celebrate today holds powerful but still unfulfilled goals.
As we honor those goals, we remember Jesus and his tiny band of followers announcing truth to power, bringing peace, healing and joy to the poor, hope to the young and God’s own dream of justice to a troubled, fractious world. The Gospel remains a good idea whose time is always now.