Tithing and generosity

Matthew 22:15-22

Jesus said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

In our Gospel reading today, there was some controversy over some of the teaching of Jesus. The Pharisees were trying to trap him saying something that would get him in hot water.

His answer is simple; “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” In other words pay way you owe to the taxman, and pay what you owe to God.

The custom of tithing in the kingdom of Israel was well known. It is first mentioned in Genesis 14, where Abraham paid one-tenth of the spoils of his conquest to the priest-king of Salem, Melchizedek. The word we use for one-tenth is ‘tithe.’

Tithing was part of the Law of Moses, and not only were the people expected to tithe, but the priests were, too. But there are passages in the Old Testament where God is not happy with their tithing, because it was seem simply as a minimum duty, and was not given from the people’s generosity.

I have heard some priests in the church teach that tithing is a standard of giving for us. I bet you have heard it, too, and some like to beat that drum at least once a year around the time we are discussing stewardship and the budget for next year. That annual pledge drive was something I always dreaded!

You, too? Why don’t we do it? I think it places too much emphasis on the giving of the minimum amount of money we need to keep the doors open. Plus, people are leery of making a pledge that they are worried that cannot fulfill.

Many years ago, I pledged to a church when my income was unpredictable because I was a carpenter. I fell behind on my payments, and I received a letter that felt a lot like a demand to catch up! I fixed that problem. I stopped going to that church!

I used to watch a lot of Public Television a long time ago, and they saved the best programs for the pledge drive season. They say, “This program is made possible by generous donations from you and the so and so corporation.”

Can you imagine me starting the service by saying, “This Holy Eucharist is made possible by the generous donations from you, and members like you.”?

The Mass is not a service we provide because of your money! We do not charge an entrance fee for Holy Communion! If we did, we probably wouldn’t have any takers. Why pay for something you can get for free someplace else, right? That’s how I always felt about Pubic Television!

The tithe is a self limiting-term, in my estimation. To some, it’s the absolute minimum, and to others it’s a lofty goal. To some it’s too easy, and for others it is impossible. One thing I will never do, is demand that everyone give 10%, and say that if you don’t, you don’t trust God very much. I know I have been made to feel that way, and it’s contrary to the Word of the Lord.

The kind of generosity taught by Jesus goes way beyond the concept of the tithe. Consider the story of the Widow’s Mite from the 21st chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke:

1 And Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, 2 and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. 3 So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; 4 for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God,[a] but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”

I do not think that Jesus expects us to put in all of our money, but I do think he wants us to practice generosity with what we have. He teaches us to care for the poor, the widows and the orphans. He teaches us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. He teaches us to provide for the homeless.

That sort of generosity is not for each of us, but for all of us together. As a church, which is not just this parish, but as the Body of Christ, we are called to be generous with what we have to help those who are unable to help themselves.

Each of us has different gifts to bring to the table. Each of us is abundant in something, and each of us is lacking in something. Others have gifts that cannot be measured, like that of hospitality. Some have this gift of time, and if they have the time, then there is much good work to be done. It is together that we can make an impact in this world.

The money we give to the church does pay the bills, but it does so much more. The money goes out to help people in our community, in our nation, and around the world.

When I saw the living conditions of many of the people in Malawi, I was deeply moved. The house that Fr. Alex lives in has no doors, only curtains. He recently saved enough money to put concrete floors in the living room and one bedroom. His daughter’s room still has a dirt floor. Many people in Malawi make the bricks themselves, just like the Hebrews did in Egypt, and they put on a thatched roof, and save up for some metal roofing, which they call iron sheets.

They build their churches with their own hands, because in most small villages, the church is the center of the community. They may live in poverty, but their joy is infectious.

With what seems like a small amount of money to us, we can provide so much for them. With our generosity, we can make a world changing impact.

Don’t let the concept of the tithe limit you. Some can give more, some less, but when everyone practices generosity, the kingdom of God goes from strength to strength.

St. Paul said, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20)

The more generous we are, in the many ways that we can be, the richer we become. May the Lord bless you with all the riches of the kingdom. Amen.


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