First Honor God

Friday, November 23, 2012 — Week of Proper 28, Year 2

Clement, Bishop of Rome, c. 100

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 993)

Psalms 102 (morning) // 107:1-32 (evening)

Malachi 3:1-12

James 5:7-12

Luke 18:1-8

Today Malachi picks up a theme that is present in Haggai and several other prophets. Our worship of God comes first, they tell us. Trust God and honor God appropriately as your primary obligation, and all other things will fit into place.

Malachi concretizes his appeal in the people’s obligation to to honor God through their tithes. The Torah established a three year process of tithing. During the first two years each family would bring 1/10th of their harvest and livestock to the feast of tabernacles. If distance made such a gift impossible, it could be converted to money. The gifts would be used especially for the festival. The third year land tithe was more like a tax and went especially to support the Temple, its worship and functionaries.

Today’s passage from Malachi is among the most quoted of the Biblical verses about tithing. It sounds almost like a dare. “Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me? But you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me — the whole nation of you! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”

Malachi is picking up a theme from Haggai who probably prophesied a bit earlier, during the early days of Israel’s return from exile, before the Temple had been rebuilt. Haggai blamed a drought on the selfishness of the people who had looked to the rebuilding of their own family homes before caring for God’s Temple. Take care of God first, and you will be blessed, he said.

Some have said that Jesus’ words, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33 KJV) picks up this same prophetic tradition. Jesus speaks these words as the punch line to his sermon about worry and anxiety over material things. These priorities are not unlike the Great Commandment that summarizes all of the law with the call of love. The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Many Christians have taken the tradition if thithing into their own practice. Many will take the first ten percent of their income and commit that portion as a gift to God, their “first fruits.” Others simply set aside a tenth as a thank offering without that necessarily being the first ten percent.

It seems to me that it violates the spirit of Jesus to turn the tradition of the tithe into a law or a legalistic duty. For me, the practice of tithing — like that of daily prayer and Bible reading or weekly eucharist — is a joyful and disciplined response to God’s goodness. Tithing is a measured and traditional way to thank God for whatever material blessings I enjoy.

I don’t believe God is going to punish me if I skip my prayer or reading or worship or giving, but I know I will in some way be impoverished.

It takes practice, consciousness and surrender to place God first and to trust that other things will fall into place. But that’s what the prophets dare us to do.

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