Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tithing...and other stuff

A few days ago I was in conversation with a Protestant friend and the subject of tithing came up. He made the statement that “Catholics don’t tithe”.

Of course some Catholics do tithe (give 10% of their income to the Church). What he meant was, of course, that the Catholic Church doesn’t teach or at least emphasize a strict tithe as does his religious denomination.

I mentioned that the Catholic Church does not teach tithing because Jesus never did. There was a pause in the conversation. It’s difficult for folks who live by “sola scriptura”, who believe that the Bible is some sort of step by step manual for every move, to deal with glaring scriptural realities such as this one.

Jesus never negated giving and caring for the poor. Of course not, this was one of His primary messages. But He never used the word “tithe”.

Tithing wasn’t the main topic of conversation so I bounced over it and moved on.

A few days later, while researching a different topic altogether I came across some interesting stuff in the OT about tithing that one rarely hears about. The verses are so striking that I thought there must be some important commentary about this somewhere. However, neither the Jerome Biblical Commentary nor the Navarre Bible says much about it.

The scripture in question starts at Deuteronomy 14:22.

"Each year you shall tithe all the produce that grows in the field you have sown; then in the place which the LORD, your God, chooses as the dwelling place of his name you shall eat in his presence your tithe of the grain, wine and oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, that you may learn always to fear the LORD, your God.”

Now, if I was a protestant and took the whole teaching on tithing in the OT literally, I would see here that I am supposed to actually consume my tithe. But of course, people don’t bring grain and cattle to church these days, they bring money, so the consuming of the tithe wouldn’t literally apply, right? The following verses have something to say about that.

“If, however, the journey is too much for you and you are not able to bring your tithe, because the place which the LORD, your God, chooses for the abode of his name is too far for you, considering how the LORD has blessed you, you may exchange the tithe for money and, with the purse of money in hand, go to the place which the LORD, your God, chooses.”

Okay, so bringing cash instead of a cow is cool with the LORD. But now look what He says to do with the money!

“You may then exchange the money for whatever you desire, oxen or sheep, wine or strong drink, or anything else you would enjoy, and there before the LORD, your God, you shall partake of it and make merry with your family.”

Eh? What’s up with that? We’re supposed to party with it? Looks like either way, whether you bring the fixins’ or buy the fixin’s the main deal is to “eat, drink, and be merry” with your “first fruits”. The only stipulation is that the LORD is invited – that you “eat in His presence”.

Another shock to the fundamental literalist is the recommendation that we imbibe on “wine or strong drink”! As you know many of our non-Catholic brethren abstain from alcohol due to the admonitions in the scriptures against drunkenness. But looks to me like there’s a time to not only enjoy “strong drink” but to even get drunk! Consider the following form Proverbs 31:6-7:

"Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more".

Now that’s interesting! According to the inspired word of God there are times when it is God’s will that you just get drunk and forget about it. Hmmmmmmmm.

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