Jesus Identified With Sinners
Some Of Whom
Were Quite Wealthy
With recent employment trends in the US going south, leaving a larger-than-usual number of people reliant on unemployment income to make ends meet, budgets are being radically adjusted.
Unemployment benefits are designed to supply only about half one’s normal income and in many cases it works out to be less. Obviously, under these circumstances some expense items have to go.
Since tithing’s status as a fixed expense is regularly debated in good times, it is no surprise that it is scrutinized even more closely during the bad. And most of the discussion focuses on one question:
“Should those living on unemployment benefits, hand-only-reaching-mouth-at-a-stretch, tithe?”
Not only are responses numerous they are often emotional.
We shouldn’t think that strange. It is inevitable that emotion would seep into any arguments about money. Contrary to what people like to think, we love the stuff. We love to keep it – meaning spend or hoard – or we love to brag about giving it away. The more we have to keep or give, the more attached we become to our pet ideas about managing it.
The arguments we put forth in support of our beliefs are no less emotional than the crazy perspectives we entertain about the filthy stuff.
Christianity Today, in their usual approach to dealing with searching questions about pressing needs, has offered three articles from three different perspectives addressing this very question. All of them are interesting. One, however, takes the emotional “cake.”
The article, Tithe Unemployment Benefits? Probably Not, was written by Gary Moore, who is also the author of Faithful Finances 101 and is more a manager of finance than a theologian. In his write up he suggests the tithe was predominantly used for charity and therefore the poor should not be required or expected to give anything, although if compelled by the spirit of generosity they may do so, he condescendingly concedes.
I give him credit for citing one passage of Scripture (Deuteronomy 14:22-29) but must also point out that he ignores a bag full of others. He makes many unsubstantiated remarks that aren’t entirely wrong but are excessively weighted toward the poor and his own opinions. For example:
Jesus, he said, identifies with the poor more than with generous givers.
Sorry Mr. Moore. Jesus identified with “sinners” some of whom happened to be quite wealthy:
- Zacchaeus, Matthew and other tax collectors.
- The disciples, James and John, were called into discipleship out of a successful family business (Matt. 4:21).
- And Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy enough to have a family tomb, the one in which Jesus was buried (Matt. 27:57). Jesus, though poor, gave it back.
- Peter and his brother Andrew were also businessmen (Matt. 4:18-20).
- The only poor person Jesus personally acknowledged was an impoverished widow who gave more than a tithe (Mark 12:42-44).
- The only person he commanded to sell possessions and give to the poor came from a family of autocrats whose wealth was derived from abusing the people they ruled, the poor (Luke 18:22).
- One of the very few examples of charitable givers in the New Testament, Zacchaeus, gave half of his goods to the poor.
Zacchaeus’ testimony suggests that those living on unemployment benefits – who are much better off than the impoverished widow mentioned above – could still give. If Zaccheus can give 50% they can surely give 10%. It also suggests that Mr. Moore’s slur about churches not needing 10% and pastors living too comfortably may be misleading.
Most churches should therefore not expect the full biblical tithe, particularly if it’s to support a comfortable lifestyle for the church’s leaders.
The leaders of the institution to which the poor widow gave her offering epitomized a self serving attitude but Jesus still commended her for giving and most churches today don’t fall in to the same category. And those pastors who are faithful, Paul said, are worthy of double honor – meaning double pay (I Timothy 5:17). They may not require it but they shouldn’t be punished for receiving a reasonable salary. Paul also said “let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teaches in all good things,” (Galatians 6:6).
As I recall, the only person who opposed the use of money for religious purposes (anointing Jesus for burial) was Judas and the excuse he used to oppose this expenditure was giving to the poor.
I believe Mr. Moore should rethink his position.
But let me end with three observations:
One, there might be better ways to help the poor than throwing them a celebration party or giving them money. Don’t misunderstand. I am not opposed to being charitable and the renewed sense of social responsibility in Christian circles is refreshing but we still have a lot to learn about how to get this job done. Attacking the tithe may not be the smartest way to accomplish this. The only clear result is fewer number of people are tithing to their churches. No one can definitely say if the tithe is going to charitable causes or not.
Two, even if people are redirecting their tithes to charitable causes the church and the pastor are still doing the giving and probably suffering because of it.
Three, if the thousands of Christians who don’t tithe would do so there would be more than enough to support church ministries and take care of glaring social needs.
In Tithing, Douglas Leblanc provides much more than a narrow discussion on a traditional issue. He doesn’t repeat the same worn out arguments the same boringly technical way.
Instead, and probably because he is “no theologian or exegetical writer,” Douglas has found an intriguing way to cut to the real heart of the issue. He shares the experiences of eleven different couples and one lone Monsignor, all of whom practice tithing for a very similar reason: selflessness.