Tithing is giving back to God for his gifts

Friday, November 04, 2016 - Updated: 7:00 am

QUESTION: I hear people talk about supporting their parish by tithing? Can you provide some background and details about this concept?

ANSWER: Tithing is a practice rooted in the Old Testament. The tithe was a requirement of the law whereby the Israelites were to give 10 percent of their crops and livestock to a local shrine or later the Temple (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:26; Deuteronomy 14:24). Tithing was not essentially based on fulfilling needs but as a recognition of what the Lord had given.

The New Testament does not record Jesus specifically commenting on the Old Testament custom of tithing. Rather, Jesus takes the matter much further in saying: “sell what you have, give to the poor … and then come follow me” (see Mark 10:21). Jesus went beyond the tithe and included everything.

Fundamental to tithing is the biblical belief that everything essentially belongs to God. What we have is absolutely a gift from God. Tithing then is giving back just 10 percent; the other 90 percent is ours to use. But the more modern concept of stewardship says that at the end of our lives on earth we have to present 100 percent back and account for what we did with everything we had on earth.

Some preachers cite scriptural passages that promise abundant blessing on those who tithe. I believe it is important not to see this in quantitative terms but as a way of placing our lives and our gifts in perspective. We must learn 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? In answering those questions we will realize the important difference between what we need and what we want. In the process, we begin to eliminate the endless clutter of material things and start to more fully appreciate the many blessings we already have.

The details of tithing are flexible. It may not be possible to give away a full 10 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 1 percent of their income to charity. In thinking of tithing it would seem the first step is 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. This process is often enlightening and freeing.

There is a story told of a man who was preparing for a river baptism. He was about to go under the water and he reached into his pocket, grabbed his wallet and held it high above his head. The pastor said, “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 may be some wisdom for us there.

Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.

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