I will never forget his face. You see, this man was asking me about giving to his church. He was absolutely amazed that his pastor had preached a sermon on tithing. Tithing is the belief that one should set aside 10% of one’s income to dedicate to God’s house and supporting the work of the faith. His question to me revealed his dilemma. “Hey, Barnabas, you’re a religious person. (I like to think so) My pastor said I should tithe. Is the 10% gross or net?”
Well, you know me, didn’t want to miss a chance to make a point! I told him “Oh, dear brother, the news is even worse that that. Now, in the face of how much Jesus has given for us, the Lord expects 100%!” Needless to say, he was a bit taken back.
What is it about giving money to the church that always seems to rile up folks? Do people think the parish runs on good intentions? Why is this topic one of the top subjects in the scriptures and one of the most controversial topics even today?
To be honest, it has little to do with actual giving, and even less to do with money itself. The reason financial support of the Church causes so much controversy and the reason why giving in the Church takes up so much time in the day to day operation of a parish community is because this subject touches us at a fundamental place in our lives. It touches us in the place where we are afraid for our survival, whether real or imagined. You see, our money, our resources, our time, our possessions, are all icons in our lives of our security and safety. They represent our ability to care for ourselves and our family. Properly understood, they are never “ends in themselves,” but always seen as tools to help us and support our journey in life.
But in reality, they also serve as a spiritual diagnostic of our real loves, our spiritual maturity, and our deepest held values. Our money, our possessions, our time, our abilities and how we use them, are absolute revelations of the real truth about ourselves.
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Luke 20:46-47; 21:1-4:
The Lord said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had.” Having said this, he proclaimed, “He who has ears let him hear.”
As you know, we are moving towards Forgiveness Sunday this weekend and the beginning of Great Lent. And we are focusing on our Gospel lessons and their insight into how to have a spiritually profitable Lent so we will be truly ready for Pascha! And today the Church calls us to look at The Widow’s Test to determine the condition of our hearts and just where we need to repent! We know the scene well. The rich were giving from their abundance, but the widow came and gave everything she had, throwing herself at God’s mercy for her survival. If you asked me, she chose the safest path because temporary riches have a way of disappearing. Just ask anyone who plays the stock market!
You see, God doesn’t measure the size of your devotion by what you give. That wouldn’t tell the real truth of the heart of your faith. No, the Lord looks at what you keep back for yourself as the perfect barometer of your trust in Him and your true confidence in eternal realities. If we truly believe as we say in the Creed that we expect the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come, then the confidence in our own strength to thrive in this temporary life now will accurately be seen in how we invest our time, talents, and treasures of this gift of life in doing eternal work. The Widow’s Test uncovers our true ability to trust. It uncovers (if we have the courage to see it) just where the discipline of Repentance and Forgiveness needs to be applied!
Today, what you give to support eternal truths and eternal values isn’t measured by amounts of time, or money, or expertise. It’s measured by what you keep back for yourself. In God’s economy He places greater value on devoted love and even sacrificial giving, not because He “needs” the gift (a silly notion, really) but because your prioritizing eternal values over temporary comforts or luxuries reveals your real confidence in the “life of the age to come.” The spiritual discipline of giving isn’t about the amount, but about the heart of trust and confidence to live Orthodox on Purpose! Here’s praying you learn how to pass The Widow’s Test.
P.S. Great Lent and our preparations for Pascha also mean the reception of new catechumens into the Church on Holy Saturday. We have several who are preparing themselves for this wonderful transition and I ask your prayers for them as they journey towards entering the Church. If you have catechumens in your parish, and you feel it would be helpful to them, share the Faith Encouraged website with them to help in their daily focus on this Orthodox Way.