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 follow Me.”
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.
Think about it! If you have any questions, please send them to the church or you may e-mail me at my church address email@example.com