Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Tax Collector in The Gospels The 1st and 21st Century Contexts

The tax collector earned the scorn of the gentile, common Jew, the Pharisee, and Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus recognizes that the tax collector was a man in need of redemption in Matthew and Luke (another Link). His apostle, Matthew was a tax collector before he sought salvation.

How do we perceive the tax collector in the 21st century? I'm sure there are many Christians working for our IRS. How do they justify the righteousness of working as tax collectors when they are so scorned as sinners in the Gospels? If read without context, the tax collector in modern America is a sinner and should give back half of anything he earned to the poor, and perhaps make severe restitution to others.

Christians working for the IRS should rest easy. The Gospels were written in the 1st Century AD with the Jews and others under the domination of Romans. The Jews suffered under this occupation and tax collectors were part of the Roman apparatus for domination of Judea. In modern America, we have control of the tax collector (in principle) and they are in the service of a government we have elected.

This underscores the importance of reading Scriptures in its historical context. The word of God is made clearer to us when we consider the historical context in which human hands wrote scripture.

Note added Sept. 28 - Wikipedia article on publicans

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