“Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the marketplaces.” (Mark 12:38)
Once upon a time, a young man went to church as usual. During the offertory, someone sitting behind him handed him a one-thousand naira note and with all smiles, he said: “Thank You.” He took the money and dropped it into the offertory bag that was being passed around. Moments later, the guy who gave him the money whispered to him: “actually that money I gave you just now fell out of your pocket while you were trying to bring out the twenty naira note.” The young man exclaimed: “Chaiiii! My own is finished!”
In an age and time like ours, where there are now so many fake churches run by charlatans who are simply in it for the sake of the money, it is very difficult to talk about giving or offering in the church. I have heard some persons even call for the eradication of offertories in churches stating that by so doing, the fake churches would fizzle out. Today, there is no street in our town that has less than ten churches, the competition is high and the main topic in all these churches is: Giving.
Should we continue giving offertories in the church? What exactly is the mind of God with regards to our offertories? Is the offertory compulsory? What exactly is the Widow’s mite? Is there a connection between the size of our offertory and the amount of blessing we get from God? These are some of the questions our readings today shall answer.
Lesson One: God Hates Hypocrisy.
Last Sunday, Jesus commended a scribe for showing a deep understanding of the greatest commandment. Today, we hear Jesus saying: “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes…who devour widow’s houses and for a pretence make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” The first lesson we learn today is the worthlessness of giving a false impression of holiness.
In Matthew’s Gospel, we read: “Beware of practising your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men… But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Matthew 6:1-3).
In other words, if your prayer is motivated by your desire to let people know how holy you are, such prayer is null and void before God. Again, if your principal reason for giving offertories in the church is to gain the respect of people, such giving counts as nothing before God. Your left hand should not even know what your right hand is doing.
Lesson Two: God is not moved by Size but by Value.
A man went to church one day and the pastor said: “Sow a seed that will provoke God.” So, the man got up and handed over the key of his car to the pastor. The moment he did that, there was Thanksgiving and jubilation in the church. The dancing was unusual and the choir sang their hearts out. The pastor prayed profusely for him and his family. Little did the pastor know that the man really wanted to “provoke” God. Two weeks after, the pastor called this man and begged him to come as fast as he could to take back his car. Having almost spent all his money trying to fix the car, it dawned on the pastor that this car was set to provoke him. Dear friends, the size of your offertory may be very big, but if it is “nothing” to you, it is nothing to God.
We must understand that God is not interested in the size of our offertory but in our attitude. In Isaiah 66:1-2, we read: Thus says the LORD: ‘Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house which you would build for me… All these things my hand has made … But this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” You see, there is no way we can ever pay God for his goodness and blessings in our lives.
However, if must offer anything at all, we must make sure it is from a cheerful heart. The widow’s offertory caught the attention of Jesus not because of its size but because of its real value. Her money was small but it all she had to live on. Her willingness to give her entire livelihood to God showed that she had faith in God’s providence just like the widow in today’s first who believed the words of the prophet Elijah and prepared a meal out of the little she had left. Far from what we think, the widow’s mite is not the smallest but the highest amount you can ever give based on what you have.
Lesson Three: The Offertory is a Sacrifice to God.
Offertory is not a payment to God rather it is a sacrifice we render to God which accompanies our prayers. We do not offer because others are doing so, we offer as a form of agreement between us and God. Just like Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son Isaac, our second reading tells us that Jesus Christ offered his own blood for the sins of the world. The prayer that follows immediately after our offertory and just at the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer helps us put this in proper context. It says: “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” And we respond: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.”
The offertory like any other sacrifice is not compulsory. As I noted above, it must come from a cheerful heart. It is an act of personal worship just as praying or singing are acts of worship. It is not compulsory to offer but whenever we do so, we must first reach an agreement with God and proceed to sacrifice for specific intentions. In this way, your external act of offering becomes an interior covenant between you and God. Like the blood of Jesus that continues to speak on our behalf, your offertory when properly done speaks on your behalf before God.
Lesson Four: Does our Offertory Determine the Kind of Blessings we God from God?
One similarity between the widow in today’s Gospel passage and the Widow in our first reading is that they were both poor and yet gave out all that they had left. However, while we are not told what became of the widow afterwards in today’s Gospel passage, the widow who fed the prophet Elijah got her immediate reward. True to the promise of the prophet, her jar of flour never went empty and her jug of oil never ran dry. It is clear that a miracle took place each time she poured out flour and oil.
Now is it the case that God rewards us according to our giving? To say so would be to call God a money doubler or some kind of investment bank. That it so happened with this woman does not meant it must happen for us. It is one thing to trust in God’s providence while giving in the church, it is a different thing together for our giving to be primarily motivated by a desire to get it back. When we give because we want to get back, we are putting God to the test and failing to worship God.
The simple truth is that whether or not we give, God continues to bless us. God is not a man who will withhold blessings because we withheld our offerings. Again, the size of our offerings has nothing to do with the blessings that God has already destined for us. No amount of offering can either increase or reduce God’s plans for us. God is not a businessman.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, may my offertory be pleasing to your sight always. Amen.