“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:23)
Once upon a time, I saw a video that had gone viral on social media platforms especially around Nigeria. It was the video of a very popular “man of God” who was addressing his staff who head various churches across Nigeria, and he dropped a bombshell: “Go and tell the people that if they fail to pay their tithes, they cannot go to heaven.”
This was the first time since the two-thousand-year history of Christianity that payment of tithes would become the key to paradise. Not even Jesus Christ Himself would preach such heresy. That statement revealed a lot about the love of money among those of us who claim to be doing God’s work. For the sake of money, we sometimes misinterpret the word of God, create false hopes in people and issue all kinds of threats so as to get as much money as we can from those who come to us seeking salvation. The truth is that this was exactly what the Scribes and Pharisees were at the time of Jesus.
Already, from yesterday, we saw how Jesus mercilessly lambasted them for their deep-seated hypocrisy and theological blindness. Today, Jesus speaks specifically on the issue of tithes. He says: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23).
Note that Jesus did not say tithing is sinful, rather, that tithing is not as important as justice, mercy, faith and (in Luke’s Gospel) the love of God. In fact, Jesus likened the emphasis on tithe above other virtues to the difference between a gnat (a very tiny fly) and a camel. “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:24). This is what we do when we equate the payment of tithe with going to heaven. In fact, there is never anywhere that Jesus taught that failure to pay one’s tithe makes things tight in our lives.
Going further, Jesus mentioned the washing of the outside of cups and dishes while inside their hearts were full of extortion and rapacity (the violent seizure and carrying off of another’s property; plunder). Truly speaking, is this not exactly what happens in our churches today? When the inside is dirty, there is no point washing the outside.
When the inside is only interested in what he/she can get from the people, no matter how beautiful the sermon or homily is, God is not pleased with it. The inside, the intention matters a lot. Many of our churches today have become entertainment centres; things are done just to get you excited and keep you coming not because they are really interested in your salvation, but in your pocket. So evil continues to increase as new church buildings are dedicated daily. There is so much evil in our society today that we men and women of God would be seriously held accountable in the day of judgement if all we do daily is just to talk about tithes. Payment of tithes is NOT required to go to heaven.
Today, we celebrate St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. This woman remains for all time a model for mothers and for every one of us. Monica knew her son Augustine was not a good boy but she never stopped praying for him. She prayed and prayed for years until God started answering her prayers little by little. Eventually, he became a priest, a bishop and even a principal doctor of the Church. St. Monica teaches us that the best disposition we should have when we hear of scandals is to pray. She could have disowned her boy just as most of us are quick to walk away from the church, but she fought for her son on bended knees.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, give us the grace to practice what we preach that our lives may not preach a gospel different from that of our lips, Amen.
Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu.