At a recent
Parish Council meeting, the topic of tithing came up. I am often
asked why I call the collection during Mass an “offering”
while in other churches they call it a “tithe.”
Believe it or not, there is a difference between the two terms.
Today, Christians often think that what they give to their church
is a tithe, when in reality it is an offering. Tithing in the
Christian Church is a misnomer because Christians are under
no obligation to fulfill the command to tithe as given to the
Israelites as part of the Mosaic Law. The tithe was a requirement
of the Law in which all Israelites were to give ten percent
of everything they earned and to the temple (Lv. 27:30; Nm.
18:26; Dt. 14:24; 2 Chr. 31:15).
The New Testament, on the other hand, nowhere commands or even
recommends that Christians submit to a legalistic tithe system.
Paul states that believers should set aside a portion of their
income as an offering, but this is not a tithe (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
In the Gospel of Mark 10:21, Jesus goes beyond the tithe when
he said, “sell what you have, give to the poor...and then
Therefore, an offering is that which is freely given by Christians
to the work of the Lord, the local church, and its many ministries
and missions. However, offerings are far more than simply ‘the
check’ we write on Sunday, but also include gifts of our
time and talent.
Some ministers cite scriptural passages that promise abundant
blessings on those who tithe. I feel it is important not to
see this in quantitative or material terms but as a way of placing
our lives and our gifts in perspective. We must earn gratitude
for God’s gifts and acknowledge our responsibility to
use them wisely.
In practical terms, when we view our spending, have we placed
God first in our budget? Have we honestly begun to downsize
for the journey to eternity, where we can take nothing with
us? The details of tithing are flexible. It may not be possible
to give a full ten-percent at first, but it may be possible
to work toward that goal over time. Studies in Stewardship indicate
that Catholics, in general, give less than one-percent of their
income to charity.
When thinking of tithing, it would seem the first step should
be to determine what one is actually giving back. In tithing,
it may be necessary to eliminate something from one’s
budget to increase what is available to give back. You may want
to call this the process of enlightening and freeing, but just
remember, tithing or offering is not just what you give in a
monetary sense, but also includes time and talent.
I am reminded of a story of a man who was preparing for a river
baptism. As he was about to go underwater, he reached into his
pocket, grabbed his wallet and held it high above his head.
The minister said to him, “ So, you don’t want to
get your wallet wet?” The man replied, “Not exactly.
I am giving my life to the Lord, just not my money.” There’s
got to be some wisdom there for us.