Not only the tenth, but the whole!
Standing in front of the offertory and weighing out one last time: “How much should I put in? What will I get out of it?” And then the all-important question: are my calculations correct?
The ancient Roman expression “do ut des” (I give so that you might give) is still very widespread today: naturally I will invest something if the reward is worthwhile. I will gladly give something, as long as I receive something—and possibly more, with a clear profit—in return. But what happens when we are talking about our offerings? How shrewd am I in my dealings with God?
The divine services in the month of October revolve around “our offerings”. In this church year, which is slowly drawing to its close, we still have one more opportunity to reflect upon our gratitude and love for God, as well as our service to our neighbour. “Our offerings”—these consist of both monetary donations as well as our non-material endeavours to give and share. But they can never be compared with the perfect sacrifice that Jesus Christ brought with His death on the cross.
Ten percent of what we have, 100 percent of what we are!
It is not by coincidence that there is no calculator lying beside the offertory. What matters is not the amount or frequency of our offerings. Nor does it matter whether we offer on the basis of our gross or net income. The one and only thing that matters is the inner drive, the will, to offer and sacrifice out of love for God and our neighbour. This rules out any sort of cost-benefit analysis, no matter what form it may take.
The blessing of God is not automatic. It cannot be bought and it certainly cannot be forced! Financial success, physical wellbeing, and a large circle of friends are not to be understood as divine gifts of salvation—and least of all as commodities that can be earned or purchased.
The love of God expresses itself in divine manifestations of His care. Divine blessing can be experienced in sacramental acts, when God draws near to man in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion and commits Himself to an enduring bond. The incarnation of the Son of God, His sacrifice on the cross, the strength and will to follow: all of these things make salvation possible, and these not only benefit us for a few moments, but result—and this is the focus—in eternal fellowship with God!
Offering means becoming active!
The willingness to offer and sacrifice is an expression of gratitude toward God on the part of the believer. It is a token of love, and demonstrates an awareness of where both natural and spiritual life originates, and where it leads. It is a process that paves the way for our recognition of the creative power of God—as far as this is even possible for us human beings. It is on the basis of this knowledge that believers choose to devote their lives to God. They thus decide to live in accordance with the gospel.
“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Corinthians 12: 7). Our service to our neighbour in listening, in approaching them, empathising with them, and in engaging our specific personal abilities in the congregation—all of these things are sacrifices too. Naturally, our financial offerings, which make it possible for the Church to fulfil its mission, are also part of this.
The change from the role of spectator to that of participant, the decision to engage one’s gifts and talents, is at times difficult, often takes us out of our comfort zone—and constitutes an essential part of our sacrifice, each one in accordance with his own abilities. And please, let us not begin comparing: “The other guy is doing less than I am, so I will do less too.” Or: “The other guy is doing way too much… He probably just wants to be noticed…”—these kinds of thoughts are of no help to anyone, and have little or nothing to do with the inner compulsion to serve God and our neighbour.
Not a trivial matter!
The basis for our offerings and sacrifices is the devotion of Jesus on the cross. It was out of love for mankind that He brought His unique and incomparable sacrifice. Offerings and sacrifices can still be brought with such an attitude today too. From time to time this may entail some form of suffering. But an offering is not a trivial matter, after all.
To give of our earthly wealth (in the form of money or produce) and our spiritual wealth (knowledge about divine salvation) is the duty of every Christian. This helps those who offer to see things from the right perspective. Now it is no longer a matter of maximising profit. Now the misery and need of our neighbour will no longer be overlooked. Greed and avarice are sins. They violate the commandment to love our neighbour. Our offerings and sacrifices protect us from breaking this commandment.
He is for us and we are for Him!
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6: 33). Here the word ‘first’ does not mean “exclusively”, and by no means does it demand us to think with blinders on. Each one of us lives in his own personal environment and must pay attention to his own family, profession, community, and health. When our eyes are focused on the kingdom of God, however, we define our values differently. If our priorities are set in accordance with Jesus’ words, modesty in material things is a matter of course.
God has already walked this path before us—the path of love, of sacrifice, of patience, and of reconciliation. To follow Him is to do as He has done.
Photo: Marcel Felde