Essays/Articles and Scriptural Studies
COLLECTS OF THE ROMAN MISSAL - SUNDAY, OCTOBER 14th: STEWARDSHIP (PART I)
For the next four weeks, I have decided to re-issue my four columns from last Fall which demonstrate the Biblical basis for the Fifth Precept of the Church, "You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church." In view of this year’s Annual Report, I think it timely for us to hear again why stewardship is both necessary for the survival of our parish, and most importantly, for the salvation of our souls.
In Proverbs 3, we read about the virtues required for the son of the Israelite 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 first-lings of his flock ...the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering He had no regard." (RSV). 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. Instead, God could take some left-overs laying around elsewhere. God was not pleased with this deficient sacrifice of Cain.
Behind the wise injunction of Proverbs 3:9 is the truth that the Israelite king's son was not to be given credit in the first place for all the temporal blessings of his kingdom. Rather, like Abel, he was obliged to give unqualified thanks to God for the temporal goods under his stewardship as king. This thank-offering was a concrete portion of his 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 a minority of donor households are truly carrying the burden of the parish’s operating costs. Imagine how different our balance sheet would look if tithinglevel giving were the norm for everyone else in the parish. 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 to offer our best to God (Walsh, In Memory of Me, pp. 128-130). Let us offer God a tithe that is truly a first fruits gift of our substance during the Offertory.(David Allen)
|Mr. David Allen, M.T.S., is the lay Pastoral Associate for our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.