The Agora
Bible Editorials

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April 15, the parable of

There once was a very great nation, which was in its time the wealthiest nation in the world. Its government devised a method of collecting revenues from its citizens that involved their voluntary reporting of annual income. The date selected by law by which this reporting was to be completed was the 15th day of the fourth month of the following year.

So it came to pass that, shortly after the end of every year, all across this great land, millions of businesses and individuals who had paid out moneys to their workers or landlords or business associates began to file information reports. Copies of these reports went to the central government itself, while other copies went to the recipients of the income.

It then became the responsibility of all individuals to compile their own reports, from the information provided, of the total income they had received during the previous year.

These income figures, from all the diverse sources, were reduced by other figures, called "deductions", provided by other businesses in like manner. These deductions -- such as amounts given to charities, amounts paid for medical expenses, and certain amounts paid out for "usury" -- were subtracted from the total income, so as to produce a new number, called "taxable income". After further calculations, the individual was able to determine and to render to the government an amount of "income tax".

Throughout the year, during many instances when money exchanged hands, the government (by various means) was able to extract and confiscate portions of such moneys almost immediately as they were paid out. This was called "withholding". This was far-sighted in that the government, through the remainder of the year, was able to use this money which technically still belonged to the individual "taxpayer". This was clever also in that the amounts "withheld" during the year usually exceeded the amount actually owed by the taxpayer at the end of the year.

Thus, when the taxpayer filed his report with the government, he could usually expect to receive back some surplus as what was called a "refund". And so the taxpayer was guarded, by a benevolent (?) government, against the danger of earning much money during a year, owing much money at the end of the same year, and having little or nothing left with which to pay.

But, invariably, every year many taxpayers wait until the 14th or even the 15th day of April to begin compiling their income and expenses for their annual report. This, despite the fact that -- for most people -- all the necessary information is available by the end of January!

What is there about people that, having 75 days to perform a relatively simple task, they will wait 74 days, or even 74 days and 21 hours, and then try to perform the same task under great pressure of time? The consequences: foolish errors that could have been easily avoided; frayed nerves; sleepless nights; late-evening rushes to the post office to beat the deadline; and delays in receiving refunds. Why do we so often make life more difficult than it need be?

The professional tax preparer sees such senseless procrastination close up, and multiplied a hundredfold. And he learns something about human nature: It is not pleasant to think about certain things, and many people do not think about them until they are absolutely forced to. This is silly, imprudent, and wasteful. And it happens all the time.

It is a favorite fantasy of the little child that, if he closes his eyes, difficult or uncomfortable facts or circumstances will disappear. The adult knows that reality is not changed simply by his refusal to contemplate it. But sometimes, somewhere deep in his subconscious, he deludes himself into thinking like that "little child".

There is a time, a day, of ultimate reckoning, upon the return of Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31). We do not know (in fact, we are told that we cannot know) the actual day. But we do know it is coming. It is coming as surely as next April 15th. (And, when it comes, it will negate the effect of all subsequent April 15ths!) Shall we wait until the very day itself, and then rush around frantically trying to tie, up the loose ends of our lives? Or shall we use the available time... now... to prepare ourselves for the inevitable? And the right preparation... now... will make the inevitable so much more pleasant.

May the little "deadlines" of our lives remind us, as they roll around one by one, of the great "deadline" somewhere over the horizon.

Don't wait until the last minute to prepare for the most important accounting you will ever know.

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