FULFILLING GOD’S LAW

FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL

 

FINANCIAL STEWARDSHIP

(Part 5)

 

FULFILLING GOD’S LAW

 

March 1, 2011

Today’s reading: Sirach 35:1-12

 

 

Today’s wisdom from Sirach gives us much input about financial stewardship. Sirach starts off with citing the law. “To keep the law is a great oblation, and he who observes the commandments sacrifices a peace offering.” (Sir 35:1). In other words, keeping the law is very pleasing to God. It is the pleasing sacrifice that He prefers.

Now tithing is part of the Mosaic law. When His people started not keeping His laws, God Himself re-affirmed tithing through the prophet Malachi. “Since the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes, and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. Yet you say, ‘How must we return?’ Dare a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me! And you say, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and in offerings!” (Mal 3:7-8).

Today we look to tithing and financial stewardship, knowing that not to tithe is to rob God for which we become accursed (Mal 3:9), but more especially, we must know that keeping God’s law is what pleases Him. We tithe not only because we fear God and the consequences of disobeying Him, but because we love Him and want to do what is pleasing to Him.

 

Now financial stewardship is not only about avoiding the evil of disobeying God’s law, but it is also about justice. “To refrain from evil pleases the Lord, and to avoid injustice is an atonement.” (Sir 35:3).

What is justice? It is to give to the other person what is his due. What is due to God? It is awe and worship. Further, as we are seeing, it is the tithe.

Further, we are to do justice to everyone, especially the neighbor whom we are to love as ourselves. What then is due to other people? It is the salvation and fullness of life that Jesus came into the world to bring. How does that happen? It happens as they call on the name of the Lord and are saved, which can only happen if there are people who are sent to preach the good news (Rom 10:13-15a). God raises up these proclaimers of the gospel. But in order to bring the good news to all, to the ends of the earth, money is needed. This money comes by way of the tithes that we give to the Church and to Christian groups such as CFC-FFL, which is basically an evangelistic and missionary community.

 

“Appear not before the Lord empty-handed, for all that you offer is in fulfillment of the precepts.” (Sir 35:4).

How often do Catholics go to Church and not give anything in the collection basket? Do they give anything at all beyond the collection at Mass? How many CFC-FFL members do not go to the tithe table to give their financial contribution? Or give money through their households?

We come before the Lord in personal prayer, in household and community assemblies, in conferences and events, and we praise God for all He does in our lives, including the bountiful provisions. But what do we give back to Him, especially in helping provide crucial resources with which to do His mission? Do we appear before the Lord empty-handed because we just want to take and be filled when we leave? Then we are not there for God; we are there just for ourselves. God’s verdict? “You are indeed accursed, for you, the whole nation, rob me.” (Mal 3:9).

On the other hand, “The just man’s offering enriches the altar and rises as a sweet odor before the Most High.” (Sir 35:5). Our tithes do not enrich the Church or the community. The money is actually never enough for the mission. Everything that comes in goes out. What the tithe does is enrich the altar of sacrifice. It is a pleasing sacrifice to God from His people who live out justice.

 

We are to give freely and generously, not only because God commands it, but because we know how it pleases God and greatly helps in the mission entrusted to His people. “In generous spirit pay homage to the Lord, be not sparing of freewill gifts.” (Sir 35:7).

While God speaks strongly about tithing, it is still something that we decide to do. We have the free choice on whether to give or not. Even if the tithe is an obligation, it is still something that we decide to give, thus it is a gift. God speaks strongly but never forces anyone. God respects our free will. Even when we are already moving to perdition and doom, God will still not force us.

Knowing that it pleases God, fulfills the law, does justice, helps bring the gospel to the world, we must then recognize tithing as a privilege, and thus rejoice in it. “With each contribution show a cheerful countenance, and pay your tithes in a spirit of joy.” (Sir 35:8). It does no good if we give but are grudging or unhappy about having to part with our money. We must see tithing not as what it takes away from us, but what it gives us. In the first place, all our money is God’s money, but He allows us to keep 90% for ourselves.

In the second place, the spiritual payback can be tremendous. “For the Lord is one who always repays, and he will give back to you sevenfold.” (Sir 35:10). In fact, it can even become so much more than sevenfold. Here is the challenge God gives to His people: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, and try me in this, says the Lord of hosts: Shall I not open for you the floodgates of heaven, to pour down blessing upon you without measure?” (Mal 3:10). Wow! God is never outdone in generosity. God says: try me. We give just 10%, and we get a deluge of blessings!

 

We give because God first gave to us. God gave us life, health, strength, family, work, community, service, etc. God gave us salvation, through the sacrifice of His very own Son Jesus, even when we were the sinners who sent Jesus to the cross. For us in CFC-FFL, God gave us a wonderful community where we find pastoral support, Christian formation, brotherhood, friendship, and many ways with which to serve.

So we give back ourselves, including our financial resources. “Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously, according to your means.” (Sir 35:9). And because God has been generous to us, we too must be generous in giving back. In this, know that when you give a tithe, that is, 10%, you are just fulfilling your obligation. There is no generosity yet in that. So we ought to look to giving even more than a tithe. In fact, as everything belongs to God, we are to give totally of ourselves, loving God with our whole strength, financial or otherwise.

We are to give according to our means. If rich, then give so much more than 10%. If not so rich and it seems 10% is difficult, then look to living more simply so that there will be that 10% to give. If poor, and no matter how you cut it the pie is not going to yield that tithe, except to result in hunger and deprivation for you and your loved ones, then it is permissible not to give a full tithe. But everyone, no matter one’s economic circumstances, must give something. Further, even for the very poor, there is always the challenge of the widow who gave out of her poverty (Mk 12:41-44).

 

Finally, while we have spoken about how God will not be outdone in generosity and we can look to tremendous payback, we must never give because of such reasons, which can become selfish. Our tithe is not our way of making an investment to which we look to financial or other gains. “But offer no bribes, these he does not accept!” (Sir 35:11a).

Here God is actually talking about not giving him dirty money. “Trust not in sacrifice of the fruits of extortion” (Sir 35:11b). At the end of the day, our tithing is not about just fulfilling the law, and not just helping out on mission, but is about being the people that God intends for us to be. We are called to be a holy people, who conduct our lives with integrity, including the ways we make money. And we are a people who see money not as an end in itself, but just as a means with which to do God’s work and thus to glorify Him.

 

Thus financial stewardship is very important in our life in Christ. Financial stewardship includes tithing, resource sharing and almsgiving. “In works of charity one offers fine flour, and when he gives alms he presents his sacrifice of praise.” (Sir 35:2). When we do these, we fulfill the law, but more importantly, live as children and servants of God.

Financial stewardship is not easy and is challenging. But apart from providing for the needs of the Church for mission, it is also God’s way of forming us. The hardest to let go is often our pocketbooks. When we sacrifice our own needs in order to obey God’s law, when we are willing to simplify our lives further so that we can give more money to God’s work, when we choose to serve only God and not mammon, then God is pleased. “The just man’s sacrifice is most pleasing, nor will it ever be forgotten.” (Sir 35:6).

 

 

Discussion starter for household meeting:

Discuss the ways by which you are responding to the call to true financial stewardship, including giving a tithe. Are you accursed or blessed?

 

 

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