Today is Tax Day.
Though I generally take a moment in this paragraph to explain the provenance of what I have mentioned in the first sentence, I suspect the vast majority of those reading know exactly what I’m talking about. April 15, the day that US Tax Returns are due, has the quality of Judgment Day. For accountants, it is the finish line after a long marathon. For the self-employed, it is the day that we have to send an inappropriately large check to Uncle Sam. And for the procrastinators among us, it is a day of panic, stress, and promises that we will not wait this long next year. Tax Day touches everyone in some way because taxes touch everyone in some way. The ubiquity of sending money to the government supposedly led Benjamin Franklin to quip that the only certainties in life are death and taxes.
With Franklin’s words in mind, it occurs to me that Tax Day is appropriate way to wrap up our Lenten experience. After all, we began this season of penitence and renewal with a reminder of our mortality. Part of the purpose of Ash Wednesday is to remind us about the certainty of death. And here in the waning days of Lent, the IRS reminds us that taxes are also inevitable. This year, our Lenten journey is bracketed by Benjamin Franklin’s two certainties.
It’s easy to read this quotation in a fatalistic way: we are going to die, and we are going to pay taxes. That’s all we can count on; everything else is ephemeral, like dust blowing in the wind. But I think that these words about life’s inevitabilities are actually hopeful. The only true certainties are death and taxes, but the rest of our lives are full of possibility. We are not hamstrung by fate or destiny; we have the power to make choices and forge our own way in the world.
In certain strands of Christianity, one often hears people say things like “God has a plan for my life.” This has always fascinated me, since so much of Christian theology is predicated on the notion that human beings have free will, that there is not a plan that we must follow slavishly, that we are responsible and accountable for our actions. In fact, the story of Christ’s Passion indicates that Jesus himself exercised free will on his journey to the cross. He had the choice to turn back, he had the choice to utter recriminations, he had the choice to reject his disciples, and yet he faithfully made the decision that would reconcile the world to God. Jesus Christ was not subject to some plan that was beyond his control; he made the choice to walk to Calvary, trusting that God would be with him. In the same way, we are called to recognize that we are not slaves to our circumstances; we can walk through our lives, make the best of our situations, and trust that God will be with us even when we feel like we are losing control. While death and taxes may be inevitable, we are called to trust in the God of boundless possibility.