“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” tells us that we are simultaneously in God’s world and under the control of Caesar.
While we know that God is good, Caesar is not always good. There are Caesars who are fair and pro-people. But there are others who are gods and therefore do not honour God. Any other God is a competition to be silenced.
The kind of Caesar implied by Jesus is a fair Caesar - one who knows boundaries. It is a Caesar who acknowledges that people need a life too. Such a Caesar will let the people worship their God as they desire –even leave a share for such worship.
But there are bad Caesars. They believe that everything people have belongs to them. They imagine that only the government has a real need for money – people can do without it! Like cattle rustlers, they believe that people keep money on behalf of the government. The State may come for the money in any form and time. Such Caesars keep coming for more.
Jesus described the legitimacy of what belongs to Caesar by saying “Give…..” This implies a proactive duty. You need not wait until the taxes are asked for you to “Give…” But there are Caesars who even after giving them return to people and take. The people work to pay Caesar’s bills and to fund his experiments. Caesar’s agents – under the oversight of Zacheus and Co - wait at the door of the pay office to hive off Caesar’s share from the pay slip.
The collectors top up their cut too. People work hard only for Caesar to demand strongly. They are left with hardly anything. Caesar takes away even what belongs to God! The people face punishment and penalties for not paying Caesar’s taxes but Caesar is not to be questioned on how he uses the taxes. With God’s share taken, people become walking offerings – living sacrifices not by choice but by circumstance.
There comes a crafty Caesar too. He plays a man of the people. This Caesar knows that people fear God. He uses this knowledge to launch political manoeuvres. He visits worship houses every week and has clergy in all his events. He shows clear solidarity with the people and depicts a perception that he is all about them. But this is a trap. He is setting up the people for Caesar’s strike.
The moment the tax income hits the treasury, the rest is up in the air, neither here nor there. This is deceit. Promises are made to be broken. Unlike promises made to be kept that are modest and realistic, promises made to be broken are deliberately grand with guaranteed calibrations of performance. But it’s all a game where Caesar must win whether the people win or lose.
A drought does not happen only when God holds the rains. It happens also when Caesar dries up people’s pockets. It’s hard to believe that the current government could burden its people more. Shouldn’t the government have a heart? Could Caesar’s eyes see the struggles of the people as pretence? Could advisors arrogantly brand Kenyans as docile “survivors” who will surrender anyway? There is a level of taking that is tantamount to a government forcing its people - children included – to an obligatory fast.
Caesar comes for more to pay for expensive decisions that could have cost less. Caesar gets into pacts and contracts with other governments and corporations then pushes the bill towards the citizen. The deals may turn unviable. But by the time the elephants turn white, the “shareholders” already got their cut! Citizens are left to pay.
As the prosperity pastor who makes the tithe Sunday come just before the Monday when his mortgage payment is due, citizens must pay Caesar’s luxurious bills. Caesar comes for more to recoup political expenses. He does not understand campaign money as a personal price for ambition. Upon winning the election, people must refund the cost incurred by Caesar to secure the position. As if this was not oppressive enough, the hustlers must begin to fund the next campaign too!
Caesar’s asking for more belittles the citizen. He is a lord of the people – not their servant. People may speak but they have no voice. Those who insist not only on speaking but on being heard are either bought off or intimated. The voice of the people ended up getting Caesar into power. His voice takes it up from there and to the people “Silence please.”
Caesar comes for more because he has a vicious appetite – a glutton in a world where contentment is a vice. This appetite breaks all values barriers to dip its sticky fingers into the coffers. Here, greed is no longer an act but a spirit – not merely a deed but an essence. While King Saul’s evil nature was tamed by music, the greedy Caesar demons are soothed by the noise of an incoming shilling. The citizens are Caesar’s wallet. To a greedy Caesar, man shall not live by God alone but by every shilling that comes from the toil of the citizens.
Indeed, there must be boundaries – even for Caesar. Those in power and the rich may know their way to tax shades that will shield them from the direct heat of Caesar’s insatiable appetite for money. But hustlers have nowhere to run. They are numb with Caesar’s scoops. They suffer tax paralysis. Was the promise not that life would get easier? Was the people’s burden not to get lighter? Weren’t the managers taking over from the mis-managers? At some point, it was Punda amechoka (the donkey is tired). This has sadly evolved into Punda amezimia (the donkey has fainted).
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Economic formulas are complex. Stabilising any economy is no easy task. Steering a poor country to become a stable wealthy country is an even harder task. But all stabilising efforts – even the most complex of fiscal equations - are hypocritical when leaders in power continue in concealed greed.
Even the best economics formula is nothing in the face of galloping corruption. Corruption is a self-inflicted curse which sadly, some regard as their blessing. It punctures big holes in resurrection efforts which – however wide the wings to fly – keep us on the ground fulfilling the sad reality that “the poor will always be with you.”