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hoist with one’s own petard

Again the high priest [Caiphas, in office AD 18-36] asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”              Mark 14: 61-62


What is a petard? In Jersey, ask a teenage boy now grown up – one who scampered off in St Malo to buy petards (small fireworks) from a tiny shop in St Servan and sold them (illegally) with a good mark-up in school.


What then is “hoist on one’s own petard”? A mixed metaphor? It seems so. It’s like soldiers being shot by so-called “friendly fire”.


About 10 years ago Jersey was facing accusations of unfair tax competition. Expressed simply (with some loss of accuracy), other governments were saying that Jersey was competing unfairly against them by taxing businesses at 20% when they operated in Jersey and at nil% when they operated overseas through Jersey-incorporated companies. The message was clear – please change.


So Jersey made a bomb. OK, Jersey said, we’ll tax all of them at nil%. They didn’t expect that. They hoped for “all at 20%” when competition against them would diminish. But they had to agree that, if we did that, we would no longer stand accused of unfair tax competition - externally.


Something then had to be done about the shortfall of tax revenue that would obviously result. So a complex system of ZeroTen has been introduced. Financial services businesses including banks, whether operating in Jersey or elsewhere through Jersey companies, are taxed at 10%.  All Jersey-resident individuals who own companies that are doing non-financial-business (plumbers, shops) pay tax at 20%.


But this means that the profits of one retail shop in St Helier will suffer Jersey tax (through its Jersey-based owner) and those of another (owned by a non-Jersey-resident) will not. The shop that pays no tax can sell at lower prices than the Jersey-owned shop next door and still make as much after tax. Unfair tax competition introduced – internally.


This petard has yet to be worked through into the system – but it seems that, given a few years, few Jersey businesses will be Jersey-owned. Most will pay no tax. Worse, introducing new businesses into Jersey will be useless for tax revenue purposes – they’ll all pay nil%. Worrying for the States Treasurer at this particular time of economic downturn.


But what’s all this got to do with the words in bold above?


Well, the High Priest in Jerusalem in AD 33 was the President of the city’s ruling Council. The Council was unanimous that Jesus Christ (from Nazareth, a poor town in Galilee and a man without assets) was a serious threat to them in several ways. He was a threat to their religious superiority as priestly rulers. He was a threat to their popularity because his teaching and compassionate miracles drew an enormous following. He was a threat to their privileged position with the military forces of the Roman Empire – forces that allowed them internal power as long as there was internal social cohesion – and this was unravelling because of Jesus Christ.


A petard was needed. Jesus must die. And the Council achieved this so skilfully that Roman soldiers even carried out the execution. But look again at the words in bold. Jesus is really saying to the High Priest – to the whole Council who were all present – that he will be hoist on his own petard.


Jesus went ahead with his death. He allowed the bomb to work – to destroy him. What about seeing the “Son of Man seated at the right hand of power” that Jesus promised the High Priest? This was, in fact, the power of a crucified man whose ability to go to his death to bless others became, straight away, so powerful that over 3,000 turned to follow the risen Jesus on one single day in Jerusalem (est. pop. 100k.) a couple of months later. 


As many as 3,000 in one day? That was only the beginning of power. Think about the number of Christians – “clouds of heaven” – who follow the man who died for others.

 ‘All of our activity is sowing; and so is our inactivity.’ (John Blanchard, Author and speaker)
‘Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.’ (Thomas Jefferson, 3rd US President, 1743-1826)
Richard Syvret

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