I don’t usually talk much about money, especially money as it relates to Church giving. I don’t want to seem to be “always” talking about money, so I very seldom talk about it. Nevertheless, today I am going to talk about it.
To gain some perspective on our financial offerings, let’s look at the example of the widow whom Jesus praises for giving her “two mites,” all she had to live on. Two mites translates often into English as two pennies because these mites were apparently made of copper. However, to get an idea of how much these two mites were worth in today’s economy, we need to understand that two mites, St. Mark’s Gospel tells us, was worth a quadrans, which is a quarter of a denarius, or a quarter of a day’s wage.
Now when I have to hire people to dig trenches or pound fence posts around our little farm, I pay them $20 per hour, which a contractor told me is the going rate for day laborers. Eight hours of labor at $20 per hour works out to $160 dollars a day. So if we want to update the story of the widow’s mites to make sense in our current economy, we would have to say that the widow gave $40, “all that she had to live on.”
And this makes sense. You can’t live today on 2 cents, but you can buy a week’s worth of beans and rice and a few veggies for $40.
I am very careful at Holy Nativity never to inquire into who gives what–only the treasurer knows that, and then only for those who want a tax receipt. I never want what I say or how I treat people to be influenced (even subconsciously) by what they do or don’t give to the Church. So if what I am about to say hits anyone close to home, it is not because I am thinking about you specifically. I have no idea what any particular person at Holy Nativity gives.
Back to the $40. Could it be that some of us are not even contributing the widow’s mite to the upkeep and functioning of Holy Nativity Church? I know it is true that, with one or two possible exceptions, every household in the community of Holy Nativity has a lot more than $40 a week to live on. The “great faith” of the widow was that she gave all she had. I certainly do not have such great faith, and I do not expect of the parishioners of Holy Nativity to have such great faith. However, I do expect something, an offering, an offering of yourself to God.
What are we saying to God when we toss a couple of toonies into the offering box? Are we saying, “I entrust to You, Oh God, all that I have?” Are we offering our selves to God?
When the scripture says, love the Lord with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength, the word “strength” does not mean mere physical ability–as in your ability to lift heavy things. The actual word, ischus, means ability or resources. Your strength is all of the might or resources or ability to do things (i.e. money nowadays) that you control. What would it mean to us if the Bible said, “love the Lord your God with all of your…money” or “all of your resources”–both of which would be perfectly legitimate translations? Would that make a difference?
Of course we all have responsibilities. Of course we all have to manage our resources, our money, so as to care for our needs and the needs of those around us, so that we do not become a burden to others. Nevertheless, offering, the offering of our “whole lives unto Christ our God,” is central to what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. Can we really pray this? Can we really offer our whole life to Christ, but not our finances, or at least not more than occasional pocket change? What would it look like to really commit our whole life to Christ our God?
The Church has an answer, and it’s called a tithe: 10%. Ten percent, that’s how you entrust your whole life to Christ–or at least the financial aspect of your whole life. Ten percent, that’s how the early Church was able to care for the widows and orphans and pay “double honor” to the elders (priests) “who labor in the word and doctrine. For,” St. Paul continues, “‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain’ and ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages.’” I think St. Paul adds these last two quotes from the Old Testament just in case anyone might think that he wasn’t actually talking about money.
Ten percent is a lot of money, if you make a lot of money. And then again, it’s not so much. It’s not so much that with a small adjustment of our lifestyle we could not offer 10% of our income. After all, 10% is merely an icon of the whole, a sign that our whole life is God’s. But it would require an slight downsizing of our lifestyle, and I guess that’s the issue. Are we willing to adjust our lifestyle for Christ’s sake? Are we willing to live smaller as a means of entrusting our whole life to Christ?
In Canada today it is up to us. There is no government tax for Churches (as there still is in some European countries). No one will make you give. At Holy Nativity we do not even “take offerings” so as not to pressure people into giving. We want it to be an offering. We want giving to be prayer. We want the parishioners of Holy Nativity to freely give their whole lives to Christ our God. It’s up to us, its up to you. Only God will know. And He’s the only One who matters.