Saturday, July 23, 2011

To Tithe

            Many times I have been faced with the decision whether or not to tithe at church. Will God’s wrath break my life into pieces if I don’t fork over His portion of my every profit; is it really commanded for me to give a few bills into the offering as it passes by; or is it something that the snooty people do just to show how much extra cash they have to give away?
Traditionally, a person is to give 10% of their income to the church. Realistically, times are tough and I don’t know if I can give God the extra money He seems to require. I do many things voluntarily for the benefit of the church. The things like: lead VBS, help with the Youth, and hand out bulletins, all seem to be about a tithe’s worth if I were to be paid. But, I still feel guilty if the offering plate passes by and I don’t have anything to toss in.
To find a simple answer, I tried to ask a simple question: “What would Jesus do?” I soon realized that this question wasn’t as simple as I thought. In my flipping through the Bible, I quickly read through Matthew 17:24-27 where Jesus is apparently subpoenaed by temple tax collectors. They stop Peter in the doorway and ask him why his teacher does not pay the proper temple tax:
The Temple Tax

 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma [standard temple tax] tax went up to [Simon] Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him [Simon Peter] first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.  However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
            After I had gotten past the miracle of Jesus making a shekel appear out of fish’s mouth I reread the section to see what the point really was. Not only can Jesus instantaneously make fish into ATM’s, He was saying that he had no need to pay the temple tax.
            Originally, tax was instituted by kings in order for them to keep up their domain. They let the people live in their land, under their protection, and the people would then give the king some money (much like it still is today). But, everyone knew that the King would let his son live on his land for free. Why would he charge someone who he’s supposed to care for and provide for?
            Temple tax was pretty much the same thing, the owners of the temple needed money to keep the temple up, put food on their plates, and to make offerings to God. Here, Jesus reminds Peter (and us) of where this tax comes from. In the Temple God is the King and, obviously, Jesus Christ is His Son. It would not make sense for God to charge His Son to use His temple.
            Again, what would Jesus do? He didn’t pay the tax. -WAIT- He did pay the tax. Even though He did not need to, Jesus used God’s work to provide the money to pay the tax. Why?!? So that he wouldn’t offend the collectors. It would be embarrassing if the collectors realized that they had asked God’s Son to pay God’s tax. Their faces would turn all red and they’d say something like, “silly me, I had no idea.” Well, probably not quite like that, but you get the picture. The collectors weren’t ready to know the truth and if they did they wouldn’t know what to do.
            So, what’s the point? Aren’t we children of God, especially now that Jesus has paid the ultimate atoning sacrifice? Wouldn’t that mean that we do not need to pay a tithe or tax? Can we just go to church without feeling guilty about not giving a full 10% of our income? You know what, you’re right. That’s it. We don’t need to pay a tithe. But, then why do I feel like I need to? It’s simple; we want to pay the tithe.
            Even though paying a tithe is not required; we should feel dutiful honored to do so. It is a simple way to reciprocate God’s never-ending love towards us. We should feel joy in giving back to the One who’s given us everything already (life, breath, friends, family, car, job, pay, money for a tithe, etc.).
            I’m reminded of a story I had heard about a mission church in Africa. During the offering time of the service there is no bowl passed around, no downcast eyes wishing that they had a spare dime, no guilt. There is only joy. If someone has money to put in the offering they dance up to the plate near the altar and place it in. They don’t feel arrogant or narcissistic, they feel happy. They have something they can give to God. The one being who has it all, they have something that He would like. By all means, we should love to give it to Him. It is not a command, but a pleasure.
But, we should not feel bad if we can’t. What about the time where someone gives all that they have in the offering and other people give a lot more, but the first person’s offering is worth more to God than the other’s money?
Good question. You’re talking about Mark 12:41-44:
The Widow’s Offering

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
In this section, Jesus sits and watches people placing their offerings to God. He watches the rich men’s offerings without a second glance but seems amazed at the offering the widow gave. The rich men had easy ways of getting more money and could clearly provide for themselves and everyone they cared for. But, the widow had no one to provide for her (the masculine role in that time’s society), this offering was easily all the money she had left for food and clothes and she decided to give it to God.
The money here was not the point. The reason why the widow’s offering was worth so much more was the fact that she had given the Lord everything. That takes Faith. She knew she could trust in God even though she didn’t have anything else. She knew He will get her through her troubles. It was not her offering that was the message, but her Faith. Through our own Faith we can give all we have, not just money, but body, soul, and mind to the Lord and know we are in good hands. The tithe is a small offering when compared to our Faith and the enormity of God’s Love.
In the end, we know that God gives us everything and we should be joyful to be able to give anything back. We can offer up time, we can give money, we have Faith. Do not feel guilty if you cannot give 10% but do not forget why you have that 10% in the first place.

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