On Tithing

Meditation on Luke 21

We see here all the rich putting their gifts into the treasury of the temple, and a widow. As Jesus watches this occur, He turns and says to the disciples, “this poor widow has put in more than all of the rest, for all of these have put in out of their abundance, but out of her poverty, she has put in all of her livelihood.”

It’s important for us to understand a concept which may be hard for us to grasp. Tithing is not about a dollar amount. Tithing is never about a bottom line. Jesus doesn’t need out money. So, when we give to the Church out of the feeling of obligation, figuring out how little we can get away with giving to Him, we accomplish nothing. When we glance around to see whose watching before we drop a few dollars into a collection plate, we have to ask if this bare minimum approach is even pleasing to God. See, we tend to think in terms of this bottom line. All the times in the world, we see the wealthy and the affluent receiving this special treatment because of their tax bracket. And here, we learn a very valuable lesson from Jesus, He is no respecter of men. He doesn’t care about this tax bracket. To Him, the millionaire who gives a thousand dollars gives nothing compared to the poor homeless man who gives twenty.

No, and this is an important fact for us to remember, the Lord accounts the value of a gift based on what is withheld, not what is given.

See, we think of tithing as being about the money itself. And on some base level it might be. Yes, in earthly terms, there are pragmatic purposes for giving to the Church. Various ministries, schooling, operational expenses, etc. Spiritually, however, tithing is about the heart, it’s about treasures being stored up, it’s about what we are trusting in. Are we trusting in Jesus to provide for us, or are we trusting in earthly riches? Are we storing up treasures here for ourselves, or are we denying ourselves those creature comforts and storing up eternal treasures? Remember the story of the rich young ruler. When he asked Jesus what he must do to be saved, Jesus tells him to “keep the commandments.” After that, however, when the ruler proclaimed that he had, Jesus, knowing his heart, commands that he sell all and give the money to the poor. To this command, the ruler’s response is to walk away sad, for he is so in love with his riches, that he could never sell everything. His heart was such that he could deny himself everything else, but never his comfort, his possessions, his wealth.

See, here’s the breakdown. Riches themselves aren’t bad, it is the dominion over our heart that we give them that becomes sin. Wealth isn’t bad, greed is. When we view our riches as a tool given to us for various services, for good, then they are good. It is when we place our love of riches before the love of God or of our fellow man that they become wicked. Tithing is given to us as a spiritual tool to maintain this discipline, to remind us that what we have is not ours. It helps us to maintain control over our possessions rather than allowing our possessions to possess us. Tithing and almsgiving aren’t about what we give, they are about what we keep for ourselves. They’re about the ascesis that the Lord commands of any who would come after Him; the self-denial that truly loves the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength; and truly loves our neighbor as ourselves.

When we practice this virtue through the discipline of tithing, then we are able to maintain the mindset that our money is not ours, it belongs to the poor, it belongs to the hungry, it belongs to any who are in need of it. Each of us is a slave to something, and the spiritual discipline of tithing helps to guard us against becoming a slave to earthly riches. It helps us seek not to serve two masters, but instead keeps this wealth in it’s place. This poor widow gave all the material possessions that she had, because she understood that none of them meant anything in light of the riches of the kingdom to come. The wealthy gave a portion of their earthly riches; this widow gave everything because she understood that earthly riches are unprofitable in the kingdom. As St Paul states, “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:8-10).

Let us all remember this lesson from the widow. Let us place our love for God and for one another before our love of riches. And let us be cautious of the trap of thinking that the warnings for the rich are only about the Bill Gates and Donald Trumps of the world. Remember, as you are driving in your car from your job to your home to cook your warm meal, to the homeless beggar on the street, you are that rich man. And let us remember also, that you need not possess money for money to possess you. A poor man who dreams of being rich is possessed by money just as much as the wealthy man who hordes his riches.

May we never fall into this trap of Satan. May we all keep the love of God as our central thought, and pray diligently for the fortitude to stand against these temptations, taking full advantage of the disciplines that the Church has prescribed for us to maintain this right heart. Prayer, fasting, tithing, almsgiving; each of these will help us to keep our hearts focused away from these worldly pursuits and instead, as the widow in the passage, focused solely on the Lord.

May the grace of the Lord be with you all.

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