Essays/Articles and Scriptural Studies
THE COLLECTS OF THE ROMAN MISSAL: NOVEMBER 5th, 2017 A.D. - STEWARDSHIP (1)
For the whole of November, I have decided to concentrate on four key Scripture texts that illuminate our individual and collective duty to the financial stewardship of our parish. This ongoing catechesis will demonstrate the Biblical basis for the fifth precept of the Church, "You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church." This is especially appropriate in view of our upcoming pledge-giving program for the next year, running from Advent 2017 through the anniversary of our parish's dedication, November 24th, 2018.
In Proverbs 3, we read about the virtues required for the son of the king. In 3:9, we read the following: "Honor the LORD with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce" (3:9, RSV). This verse likely reflects the lesson enshrined in the story of Cain and Abel in Gen. 4:3-5: "Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought some of the firstlings of his flock ...the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering He had no regard." (RSV; Emphasis added). God accepted Abel's offering, because it was worthy of divinity (it was the best that Abel could give to God), whereas Cain's sacrifice failed to communicate the same sentiment. Why is this?
Abel recognized that the firstlings were owed God, because the whole flock ultimately belonged to God before it belonged to him as its steward and shepherd. Cain also recognized that God was owed sacrifice, but it seems he did not think God was owed the best produce he could gather up, nor that he deserved the first fruits of his own harvest (his offering may not have represented the fruit of his own labor from his own field). Instead, God could take some left-overs laying around elsewhere. God was not pleased with this deficient sacrifice of Cain.
Thus, we can see how Proverbs 3:9 appears to allude to Abel as the model of one who offers sacrifice worthily when it says that God deserves the first fruits. Behind this injunction is the truth that the king's son was not to be given credit in the first place for all the temporal blessings of his kingdom. Rather, he was obliged to give unqualified thanks to God for the temporal goods under his stewardship as king. He would honor God by giving a personal portion (substance) representing the best of his labor (first fruits).
The principle applies in a non-agrarian society like our own. God is owed the first fruits of our labors, i.e., our money, which represents our livelihood, our substance. Concretely, the first fruits means a percentage portion of our income being given over to God before we dispense with the rest. This is what the traditional Israelite "tithe," the 10% offering, meant. What was true for Israel is true for the Church, as we see in the Book of Acts.
In our day, a worthy tithe represents 5%-10% of our income. Obviously, the Church never asks us to give what we don't have [At the same time, we cannot forget how Christ commends the generosity of the poor widow who gives two coins in the Temple]. Most of us, however, are not in extreme circumstances, and yet the fifth precept of the Church is simply not being observed as it should be. According to this year’s Annual Report only ten donor households accounted for 45% of the Year’s donations to the parish. Imagine how different our balance sheet would look if tithing level giving were the norm. Our deficit would vanish instantly! You can afford to give a tithe, and you should. God deserves this, since our every breath is a gift. Our ability to earn is itself His gift. Tithing acknowledges God's lordship as fundamentally prior to our own derivative ownership (as well as that of the IRS).
A failure to give a legitimate sacrificial gift ultimately tells God that we view Him like Cain did, as an after -thought when it comes to the concrete things in life. Let us join with Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek when we assist at Mass, as the Canon calls us to do, and offer our best to God (Walsh, In Memory of Me, pp. 128-130). Let us participate in the Mass more worthily by offering a tithe that is truly a first fruits gift of our substance during Offertory time.(David Allen)
|Mr. David Allen, M.T.S., is the lay Pastoral Associate for our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.