There’s an old African proverb that says the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Apparently, the writer of the proverb never met the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. He probably never met most of us either. Surely we have made “the ministry” way too complicated. Maybe that’s because our culture is so results-oriented. Are our discipleship programs really what Jesus had in mind?
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”
(Matthew 23:23-24 ESV)
First of all, don’t let’s try to make this passage about giving, in the traditional sense. Yes, Jesus mentions tithing. But before we swallow our own camel, let’s look at the principle here.
Go into your kitchen and pull the bottle of dill weed from your spice rack. Now, place just one piece of it in front of you on the table. Tough to do, isn’t it? Even the “whole” version is terribly tiny. Now think like a Pharisee for a moment. I know this will be difficult for any of you ministry professionals out there, but give it a try.
As a Pharisee, one of the top priorities for you is to make sure you tithe. By “tithe,” we mean that you give at least 10% of absolutely everything that comes to you that might possibly be construed as the basis for making a living.
Right now most people who are pastors of local churches are thinking about what life would be like if they could get their people to do this. Even the smallest churches here in the US would be fantastically well resourced. I’ve seen so many stewardship programs where this equation was put before the people in an effort to get them to achieve even the “modern tithe” of 10% of disposable income, after tax. What ever became of “first fruits?”
As a Pharisee, because you’re living in a 1st century, agrarian society, you have to tithe on all the crops you raise. This includes your stupid little dill plant. But rather than growing ten dill plants and giving the first mature one to the church, you’ve gotten into the practice of laboriously cutting 1/10 off each and every sprig and tithing THAT!
Why are you spending hours cutting up dill weed? It fills your days so you don’t have time to do much else. After all, if you’re busy cutting up dill you can’t be expected to involve yourself with the poor, with widows, with prisoners, with the oppressed, with your neighbors. And since there are so many of them in the first place, what difference would your pathetic attempts at doing something about their condition make? But you are convinced that
one tenth of
one sprig of
one dill weed
matters in making you acceptable to God. You who are pastors of local churches? Are you spending your days running around trying to keep the people happy so they’ll give? If you are, you are cutting off one tenth of one sprig of one dill weed, because that’s about all you’re going to get in return. Oh shepherds! What are we burdening our people with? Our congregational meetings so often take up hours on such small, small matters.
How many gifts of justice, mercy, and faithfulness have you received from God? Tithe those. If you do, I think you will find you probably won’t have the time left over to be cutting up dill weed.