November 7, 2004
Last week we talked about Stewardship as our grateful and generous response in all the areas of our life, to God’s great goodness to us. The Lord Jesus Christ owns our whole life and we are stewards of it. He wants us to surrender all we have to Him. He wants to be The Lord of each of our lives!
One of the main themes that emerges from today’s readings is the theme of radical trust in God because He is faithful. In the Book of Macabees, we see seven Israelite brothers who were tortured and put to death rather than submitting to eating pork in violation of God’s Law. They knew that they would see God and be raised up by Him one day. (They knew God was faithful and could be trusted). In our Responsorial Psalm, the psalmist tells God that when He (God) has heard the psalmist’s prayer, his joy (the joy of the Lord) will be made full in him (the psalmist shows a radical trust in the faithfulness of God, that his joy will be made full). In St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul reminds them to be faithful to the Lord as the Lord is faithful to them in their battle against the Evil One and the powers of darkness.
In all these readings, we see the theme of radical trust in God because He can be trusted and is faithful, to His Word and His promises! Last year we heard homilies on the Stewardship of Time and Talent and last week Fr. Ed spoke about these themes again as well as touching on the theme of Stewardship of Treasure. The Story of Zaccheus who, after being touched by his encounter with The Lord, promised to give half of his possessions to the poor and to restore anyone he defrauded fourfold and the widow’s mite, the widow who put her last coin in the temple treasury, showing a radical trust in God’s goodness that He would take care of her needs. Today, I would like to spend some more time on the Stewardship of Treasure. When we think of our financial resources and how they relate to God and to His Church, especially our parish, we think of 2 areas in particular: 1) Tithing and 2) Almsgiving.
The word Tithe means a tenth. In the Old Testament, as early as the Book of Genesis, we see Abraham, our Father in Faith, giving a tenth of what he owned to Melchisedeck, the High Priest. A faithful Jew in the Old Testament would tithe on the produce from his grains, vines and flocks. In the Gospels we know that the Tithe was still practiced because Jesus mentions it when speaking to the scribes and Pharisees in the 23rd chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel. St. Paul, in his writings to some of the Christian churches, gave some characteristics of financial giving for the Christian. He said it should be done with a cheerful spirit and generously, not grudgingly. (Good guidelines for us today, for “God loves a cheerful giver”).
The other area that the Scriptures talk about is Almsgiving. Almsgiving is giving to the poor and those in need. St. Paul, in the 24th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, urges the Christian people to give generously to the poor in the city of Jerusalem. Anytime is a good time to give to those in need but the Church puts a special emphasis on Almsgiving during the season of Lent when we’re especially called to Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving.
There are Blessings associated with Giving, siting the words of Jesus “Give and it shall be given back to you”. We plant seeds (giving of ourselves) and it will be given back to us, for example, a kind word spoken to someone will usually be returned with a kind word back to us. A service rendered to someone will usually be returned, at some point in time, with a service back to us. “Give and it shall be given back to you”, Jesus says. It is important to remember that our motive for doing something for someone else should not be to receive something in return. We do it to fulfill the Great Commandment: to love God and our Neighbor. But many times receiving something back is a by-product of our giving. This seems to be the way that God has created things to work in our relationship with one another as human beings. This same principle also works in our relationship with God. For example, as we give of our time to spiritual things, such as our times of prayer, The Lord gives back to us: His divine life, His love, His grace, His power and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, as we seek and ask for them.
The same holds true in the area of Treasure. As we give of our treasure to God and His church, He blesses us back, He provides for our needs (Phillipians 4:19: “my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in Glory”). In relationship to Tithing and the theme of radical trust in God because He is faithful, I want to share this text from the Old Testament with you: Malachi 3:10, God tells the Isrealites to “bring the whole tithe into the store house that there may be food in my house and try me (prove me in this, He says). Shall I not open the flood gates of heaven and pour down blessings upon you without measure”?
Regarding the whole tithe, God was angry with some of the Israelites who were bringing their defective, sick and lame animals to the temple for sacrifice. What He wanted was their best animals to be brought to Him. There is an analogy here for us. He wants us to give Him the best times of our day for our times of prayer with Him, for example, as well as the first-fruits of our financial income, not the left overs. Regarding God’s words: prove me in this, this is one of the few times in scripture that God issued such a challenge to the Israelites. He challenges us today in the area of Treasure, as well as Time and Talent. The blessings that He speaks about are not just financial blessings but a drawing closer to God because we see Him working specifically in our lives,which leads to spending more time with Him, greater peace of mind for us, and an increased awareness of His action in our lives.
I want to share with you now some testimonies from a few of our parishioners on ways that God has blessed them. The first parishioner writes: “When we had a young family, we felt the Lord was calling us on to something more. Each of us independently felt that The Lord was ‘inviting us’ to give ourselves and all that we had to Him. We felt that the level of commitment was similar to the commitment that someone might feel when he might join a Religious Order. It was an extremely difficult question but a very exciting invitation to give our lives more fully to The Lord. I was glad that The Lord asked us to give all at a time when we had very little because even then it was difficult to say ‘Yes, Lord’. However, we did say ‘Yes’ to The Lord! Since then, The Lord has blessed us and our family very much, but we try to continually remember that we, and all we have, are His! (Glory to God!)” Then he says, “it is not a matter of how much of ours that we share with the Lord, but how we use what is His since it all belongs to Him already!”
A second story. “Some time back, I felt The Lord made it clear to me that He wanted me to increase the percentage of my income that I was donating to charity. It took a while to work it out in my budget, but I finally got to the point where I was donating the percentage that I felt He wanted me to give. A couple of months later, I unexpectedly got a bonus at work. The next day, before I had a chance to write out the donation checks from my bonus, my car broke down. The mechanic told me that the cause, based on my description of the symptoms, could either be something relatively inexpensive to fix or something very expensive but it would take a day or two to know for sure. I decided, while waiting, to go ahead and write the donation checks from my bonus at the new higher percentage. It turned out that the problem was the less expensive option. But what was particularly striking was the amount remaining from the bonus. After subtracting taxes and the donations, the amount exactly matched the amount of the bill. God is faithful!”
There is one more example that I would like to share with you. Many years ago my annual salary was four numbers (like $9,000). My wife Mary and I started tithing 10% on this money each month and, at first, did not see any change in our financial situation. (Looking for a change in our financial situation was not our first motive, honoring God with the first-fruits of our income was). However, after about six months, I was given a surprise promotion and money started to show up from other unexpected sources. We continued to tithe each month and our financial picture began to improve steadily. Through the years, The Lord has blessed us abundantly as we have tried to put Him first in every area of our lives! God is faithful and good! Alleluia! You know, over the years, I’ve never heard a person say that he or she lost something by giving to God first. Rather, I’ve heard them say “I was blessed by giving to The Lord first.” Giving of our financial resources to God is a part of our Christian life. It’s a way that God wants to work in our lives to show His love, goodness and faithfulness to us!
Next week we are going to pass out Stewardship Commitment cards. They will contain some recommendations from the Stewardship Committee on some commitments that you might want to make to the Lord in the areas of Time, Talent and Treasure. Whatever you make a commitment to will be between you and The Lord. These cards will not be collected. But the key thing is to be as faithful to your commitments each day as possible. This will allow The Lord to be able to do His work more fully in your life!