Our Need to Give
We have been so blessed with an amazing fall. The colors of the trees, the smells of autumn, the warmth of the sun on our face, lifts our attitudes and fills our hearts with peace. Over the past several weeks I have gone to the zoo a couple of times and watch the tigers prowl, the tortoises meander and the gorillas throw barrels. All of this reminds me that all of creation is a gift. Everything we have… everything we are… is a sheer gift of God’s love. We did not create ourselves. We did not give ourselves life or the ability to experience all the beautiful things God has made. Everything that has been made has been made without me; and yet I get to rejoice in it all as if it were mine.
The recognition of these gifts is the root of stewardship. And the only appropriate response to such blessings is gratitude. Stewardship is a grateful response of a Christian disciple who recognizes and receives God’s gifts and shares these gifts in love of God and neighbor. Today’s readings help us learn the meaning of stewardship.
The first reading is the story of the widow of Zaraphath. She and her son were in the midst of a drought and were preparing to eat their last meal. Then Elijah, a prophet of God, came along and asked for some food. Now, if I were the widow, I would be tempted to say to the prophet, “Um, I’m sorry, I have nothing to offer you. My son and I are eating one last meal and then we were going to die.” But this is not what the widow did. Rather, hospitality to the prophet was more important than a bit more food for her and her son’s last meal. In the face of death the widow still shared her gifts with Elijah.
Our Gospel shares a similar message. A widow, who had only two small coins, chose to give her money to the temple treasury rather than keep her money for her own needs. Remember, there was no such thing as social security, savings accounts or Medicare. Her two coins were all she had. And yet, she trusted that God would care for her more than she trusted that her two small coins would save her. The widow figured that the need to give was more important than her need to provide for herself. And she trusted that God would provide for her. Jesus praises this woman saying that others gave from their surplus but she contributed all she had, her whole livelihood. Like the widow of Zaraphath, this widow’s life was on the line and she still gave.
Both of these stories reveal to us that monetary gifts, given out of faith, are gifts of self. The widows’ giving of material gifts was an act of entrusting their life to God. And this gift wasn’t so much about meeting a need (I mean what could two small coins or a hand full of flour really offer?) but about the need to give. Sharing our gifts in love of God and neighbor is a statement of faith and an intrinsic act of trust in God. We believe that everything we have received, we have received from the Lord. All that I have is a gift. Therefore all that that I possess has been given to me by a loving Creator. When we share our gifts in love of God and neighbor we are entering into the same act of trust as the widow in Zaraphath or the widow in the Gospel.
I would dare say that very few of us are at the point of the last piece of food before we die, or the last two coins we possess, but I would say that all of us know that giving out of our need presents itself as a compromise to our livelihood. Part of our Christian stewardship is our 10% tithe. For those who do not have the habit of tithing 10% the thought of such a sum of money is frightening. If persons were to start giving 10% it would mean that the way they spend money and the things they purchase would have to change. There is no person, however rich or poor, to whom the 10% does not at first seem like a threat to one’s livelihood. There are very few people who feel as though they have a “surplus” to give. But Jesus reminds all of us that we are called to give out of our need not out of our surplus. And it is true: we are compromised by giving out of our need. Giving money means we have to reprioritize our life and our habits of spending. In this way giving is always sacrificial.
But the whole point of today’s readings is to be a direct response to the sense of compromise that we face when we decide to give sacrificially. The widows in today’s readings chose to trust God more than they trusted in food or money. Rooted in faith they placed hospitality and other’s needs before their own. They knew that trusting in God was a higher priority than trusting in material things.
In the same way, our 10% tithe is an intrinsic act of trust in God who provides for all of our needs. The tithe is a guarantee of rightly ordered Christian priorities concerning our possessions. Remember, everything we have is a sheer gift of God’s goodness. Our tithe is the concrete and tangible way that we place our trust in God over our trust in material things. Our tithe is genuine part of our Christian discipleship.
Sacrificial giving takes faith and trust. But this saying is true: the God who gives us life will not fail to provide for our life! And we need to hear Elijah say to us what he said to the widow, “Do not be afraid!” Do not be afraid… God will provide for you. As our psalm says, “The fatherless and the widow he sustains.” Our God cannot be outdone in generosity and your act of trust in offering your tithe will be filled with blessings. I myself give 10% of my own finances every year. I know well how it compromises some of the things I could purchase… but I tell you I have never once been without my basic needs.
Everything we have… everything we are… is a sheer gift of God’s love. The God who gave us life will not fail to provide for our life. As stewards the guarantee of a rightly order monetary life is the sacrificial gift of our tithe. For those who have not developed the habit of the tithe it takes work and trust to reorder one’s priorities and faithfully give. For those who have developed the habit it takes courage to share God’s blessings with others. Our God cannot be outdone in generosity. He is our Father, we are his children, let us be grateful for his gifts and share our gifts in love of God and neighbor!