Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. (Luke 14:21-24)
The painting you can see here is anonymous, painted by a Dutch artist in the early 16th century. I love this painting. It depicts the parable of the great banquet, also known as the parable of the wedding feast. It's the story of a master who invites a host of people to his party and who all, one by one, make excuses, until the master gets his servant to go out into the streets to invite 'the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame'. The parable is widely understood as a parable of the feast in heaven, in other words the life that is to come. In Isaiah, the age to come is also portrayed this way as a great feast to enjoy. Isaiah 25:6 says this: 'On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine-- the best of meats and the finest of wines.' Both accounts speak to us of a place where there is no want, no hunger, no crying, no pain – just a place of enjoyment.
But what’s interesting in Luke’s parable is the way in which the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame are shown to be enjoying this feast also. We see this depicted in the painting – we have the food, the drink, the merriment, the young, the old – but also a lame man, dead centre in the painting.
So what has this to do with tax justice? The vision of heaven we are given in scripture is not merely about something we look forward to when we die – it is, in the words of the old Christian Aid slogan, about life before death. The vision of heaven is basically an indication of how life should be now. Don't we pray 'thy kingdom come'? In other words, life should be a party – but it should be a party for all. Life should be a place of flourishing for all – including for the crippled, the blind and the poor. Our tax regimes should be such that everyone can enjoy life as much as they are able. And if our tax systems are such that some are excluded, that they are left out of the party as it were, then they are wrong. But as we all know, that is what our tax systems do. In the UK, as the JRF report above indicates many are still suffering significant degrees of poverty. And internationally, the picture is even worse. Yet the global tax rules are set in such a way that they benefit the richest countries not the poorest. Tax justice is, in part, about ensuring that everyone is invited to the party - for that is the vision that Christ gave us.
The Bible And Tax - Revd David Haslam's in-depth exploration of the Biblical precedents for the Tax Justice Campaign with reference to both the Old and New Testaments and to theologian Ched Myers' ideas of 'Sabbath Economics'. Physical copies can be purchased at a cost of £1 per copy, £5 for 6 or £10 for 12. Email us at mail (at) catj.org.uk for more information..