Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Get Matthew back in the tax booth

Today we remember Matthew the tax collector who was called from his tax booth to Caravaggio_The_Calling_of_St_Matthew_1599-1600follow Jesus and appointed one of the twelve disciples (Matthew 9:9-13). As I was preparing for Morning Prayer and then our mid week communion service this morning I was reflecting on the call of Matthew in light of a piece of news I had heard earlier on the radio.

Apparently the latest official estimate is that the annual amount of uncollected tax in the UK is about £35 billion. The figures are for 2009/10 and represent a reduction from the previous year but it is still a staggeringly large amount. Of course this is an estimate, how can you actually know the amount since it is unpaid or undeclared, nevertheless the same method for assessing the amount has been employed by HMRC for many years. HMRC explains that the reason for the reduction is largely accounted for by the reduction in VAT during the period being assessed. In other words, it was not that more tax was recovered but that less was owed.

So it occurred to me that as we celebrate St Matthew today perhaps we ought to call people to become tax collectors so we can recover some of this money and that might go some way to addressing the huge financial mess we find ourselves in.

Anyway, I found today's collect for St Matthew challenging:
O Almighty God,
whose blessed Son called Matthew the tax collector
to be an apostle and evangelist:
give us grace to forsake the selfish pursuit of gain
      and the possessive love of riches
that we may follow in the way of your Son Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.


UKViewer said...

My understanding is that most of the unpaid tax is due to big business and wealthy individuals using legitimate tax avoidance methods.

These loopholes need to be closed and It's good that the government is working to close some, although a little half-heartedly.

The poor or pensioners are the victims, they are unable to stop tax being taken from their meagre pay or pension, why should those who can afford to pay, be able to avoid paying?

The Bankers who got us into the current financial crisis are still allowed to pay enormous bonuses and to laugh at the rest of us, having got away scot free with their negligence in financial dealings.

Social justice for all might be an aspiration, but is the only way that we will move forward to a new future, rooted in ethics and hopefully founded on Christian principles.

Ian S-T said...

Re. UKViewer: Surely "legitimate tax avoidance" is above board and OK, so can't be equated to "unpaid tax"? Surely it's tax evasion (such as cash transactions to avoid VAT and income tax) which are referred to as "unpaid tax"? I'm sure there are big-business equivalents, too.
I love Phil's focus on the Collect, which does take a very negative attitude to tax collectors. They've remained unpopular from the first century through to today! Maybe fewer today use violence and extortion to achieve personal gain, but is it possible God might call someone to be a tax collector? To right the wrongs of unpaid tax, and help redress the nation's deficit? Could it ever be an honourable profession for Christians? Or is it destined forever to be down there with paparazzi, estate agents and traffic wardens?