Monday, October 24, 2011

On Tipping and Tithing

Dear Parish Faithful,

“Tipping and Tithing”

(Image Panel: Lazarus and the Rich Man)

The Pledge Forms for 2012 have been distributed both in church and via email in the last two weeks. As we are carefully – and prayerfully – considering our financial commitment for the upcoming year toward building up our parish as the local Body of Christ here in Cincinnati, I would like to share this rather cleverly-composed anecdote. Using a pseudo-biblical rhetoric to both humorous and challenging effect, the anonymous author of this short piece touches upon the issue of our priorities or, in more biblical language, the issue of where our “treasure” is, for that is where our heart will be also, according to the teaching of Christ:

Now it came to pass on a day at noon that the writer was a guest of a certain rich man. And the lunch was enjoyed at a popular restaurant. And the waiters were very efficient. And the food was good. Now when the end of the meal was at hand, the waiter brought unto the host the check. And the host examined it, frowned a bit, but made no comment. But as he arose to depart, I observed that he laid some coins under the edge of his plate. I know not what denomination the coins were, howbeit, the waiter who stood nearby smiled happily, which, being interpreted, means that the tip was satisfactory. Now this parable entereth not into the merits or demerits of tipping. But as I mentioned on the coins that become tips throughout our nation, I began to think of tips and tithing. For the proverbial tip should be at least a tenth, however the prescribed gratuity (tip) is fifteen percent of the bill, lest the waiter turn against you. And as I continued to think on these things, it came unto me that few people who go to church treat their God as well as they honor the waiter. For they give unto the waiter a tithe, but unto God they give whatsoever they think will get them by. Verily, doth man fear the waiter more that he feareth God? And doth he love God less than he loveth the waiter? Or doth the waiter do more for him than his God? Truly, a man and his money are past understanding!

- A twentieth century Christian

St. John Chrysostom delivered a series of homilies based on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (LK. 16:19-31). It was this parable that we heard yesterday morning during the Divine Liturgy. This complex parable is a fearful reminder of the “cost” of being uncharitable, self-indulgent, and indifferent to the sufferings of the poor. To put this in somewhat more contemporary terms: The “gains” of an ever-expanding portfolio can easily lead to a shrinking and loveless heart that renders itself unfit for the Kingdom of Heaven as revealed in the parable, when, in a reversal of fortune, the poor Lazarus finds consolation in the bosom of Abraham, while the rich man suffers the torments of hades. This leads St. John Chrysostom to comment on the nature of theft. With his typical insight, St. John expands the notion of theft to include not only the stealing of another’s possessions, but also the withholding of one’s goods that could be shared with the poor. As St. John expresses it:

I shall bring you the testimony from the divine Scriptures, saying that not only the theft of others’ goods but also the failure to share one’s own goods with others is theft and swindle and defraudation. What is this testimony? Accusing the Jews by the prophet, God says, ‘The earth has brought forth her increase, and you have not brought forth your tithes; but the theft of the poor is in your houses.’ (cf. MAL. 3:8-10) Since you have not given the accustomed offering, He says, you have stolen the goods of the poor. He says this to show the rich that they hold the goods of the poor even if they have inherited them from their fathers or no matter how they have gathered their wealth. And elsewhere the Scripture says, ‘Deprive not the poor of his living.’ (SIR. 4:1) To deprive is to take what belongs to another; for it is called deprivation when we take what belongs to others. By this we are taught that when we do not show mercy, we will be punished just like those who steal. For our money is the Lord’s, however we may have gathered it. If we provide for those in need, we shall obtain great plenty. This is why God has allowed you to have more: not for you to waste on drink, fancy food, expensive clothes, and all the other kinds of indulgence, but for you to distribute to those in need … If you are affluent, but spend more than you need, you will give account of the funds which were entrusted to you … For you have obtained more than others, and you have received it, not to spend it for yourself, but to become a good steward for others as well.

St. John Chrysostom, Homiles on the Rich Man and Lazarus

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