The widow’s gift

Jesus was sitting across from the tithe box at the Temple. He saw all the people dropping their money into it – the rich were putting in a lot. A poor widow came along and put in just two tiny coins, barely enough to buy a loaf of bread. Jesus called his disciples to notice this and said “Truly, this poor widow has donated far more than anyone else. They had given out of their excess, but she has given out of her lack. She has given everything that she has to live on.”

MK 12:41-44, LK 21:1-4

Taxes and tithes

Jesus was constantly getting under the skin of the religious authorities of the day. They kept looking for ways to trap him, to make him show that he was a rule-breaker. Here’s a situation where he was asked about paying taxes.

Matthew 22:15-22
15 Then the Pharisees went and took counsel how to entangle him in his talk. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Hero′di-ans, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the money for the tax.” And they brought him a coin. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away. (RSV)

So – we are supposed to pay taxes. Got it. But what about tithes? If we are supposed to give “to God the things that are God’s” – then we need to rethink tithes. God’s face isn’t on the money we have.

What is from God?

Our time.
Our energy.
Our talents and abilities.
Our creativity.
Our intelligence.

We should give these things in the service of God, not money.

Tithe

I don’t tithe. Not anymore.

I don’t like that the plate is passed around during the service, right before Communion. It says “if you pay, you can play”. It says that God’s love can be bought. It isn’t at the beginning of the service, or at the end. It is right in the middle, before Communion.

God’s love, as demonstrated through the sacrifice of Jesus, was, is, and shall always be free. There are no strings attached. You can’t earn it, and you can’t buy it.

But I also don’t tithe because I feel like I’m supporting an addict friend. You know the one. The one who never quite seems to have enough money to pay his bills, but she has enough for soda and cigarettes. The one who always forgets to have his wallet on him when you all go out to eat. The one who never quite seems to have it together.

Now, certainly this isn’t the way with all churches. Some pool their money together and do really good things with it. If a hundred people donate a dollar each, that provides enough for four families to have a healthy meal. That kind of tithing I like.

But so often it isn’t that kind of tithing that happens. So often the money goes to buy more vestments, or pay the mortgage on the minister’s home, or to re-carpet the sanctuary.

The money goes to the church building, not the Church Body.

Perhaps I should look at it like when I get approached by a homeless person. I have no way of knowing if he is going to use it to buy a sandwich or a shot of tequila.

Money and church – a dangerous combination.

I really don’t want money to be involved with a church. I don’t want people to feel guilt about having to tithe and I don’t want the government to get involved.

The government has nothing to do with church. If there is no money involved then it is simpler all around. Forget the idea of registering a church as a nonprofit. A church isn’t a business and shouldn’t be run like one. It is a group of people, united in a common goal to serve God and humankind.

Tithes make people feel excluded. They are guilt inducing. Have I paid enough? Is it ten percent of my net or of my gross? The poor person knows that he hasn’t paid anywhere near the amount that the rich person has, so he feels that he is not an equal member.

To expect people to pay to go to church is to exclude some people. It certainly will shame some of them. It will make some people feel like modern day lepers.

To have the alms basin pass through the pews right before communion is even more excluding. If you pay, you can play. If you put some money in the plate then you get to meet Jesus. I suspect that most people don’t see it that way. But you notice the alms basin isn’t passed at the beginning of the service, or at the end. It is right in the middle, right before communion. This is the worst time ever.

I get it. People would bring their offerings to the Temple. They would bring an ox or two doves or some grain, depending on the degree of the sin that they had committed. The bigger the sin, the bigger the offering. Since we don’t deal in animal sacrifice any more, we use money. It is a lot more portable.

Also, the modern idea of offerings is to make us mindful of the idea that everything we have comes from God. Everything. If we hold on to it like it is all ours then we start to think that we are responsible for our fortune, and by fortune I mean not only money but luck. When we give some of our money back to God we are acknowledging that it isn’t ours. It wasn’t really ever ours to start off with.

But I just don’t like the idea of money mixed up with church. Jesus never collected money for his services. Jesus never carried money.

The disciples rarely carried money either. When he sent them out to preach he told them to not take any money (or much of anything else) with them.

Jesus says in Luke 10:4,
“4 Don’t carry a money-bag, traveling bag, or sandals; don’t greet anyone along the road.”

We are told to not worry about money or material possessions.

Jesus says in Luke 12:27,
“Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.”

Now, of course people have to have stuff to survive. They need food and clothing and shelter. But we aren’t supposed to worry about it.

When they got to a certain town, they had to pay the temple tax. Jesus tells Peter to go fish. Jesus tells Peter to use the talent he has, that he is good at and trust that God will provide. And God does provide in an amazing way.

In Matthew 17:24-27 we read this amazing story.
24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” 25 “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” 26 “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

But churches need money too, right? Of course they do, if you think of church as being a building. Of course they do if you think of that building being staffed by paid ministers.

But this isn’t the model that Jesus gives us.

In Luke 12:33-34, Jesus says,
33″Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. 34″For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In Matthew 6:19, Jesus says,
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”

We’ve started to think of the buildings as church, and forgotten that the Church is the people. The Body of Christ is made up not of bricks but of bodies. Every one of us is a living, breathing cell in the Body of Christ.

When we forget this, we start to worship the building and not even notice the Body.

Jesus never built a building. If you go to the Holy Land, you can’t take a tour of the First church of Jesus. Jesus never ordained anybody. Jesus never consecrated a place or a person. Jesus said that everything and everyone was of God. So why are we doing otherwise?

We shouldn’t spend our time and our money building up a church made of bricks and stones. We should spend our time and our money building up a Church made of people. If we spend our time and our money on education, on health, on arts, on healing people inside and out, we will have a stronger Body. We’ll have a stronger world.

If we wake people up to their true potential then this Body will be very strong indeed.