The Widow's Mite

The Gospels provide little information concerning how Jesus and His closest disciples supported themselves. Did they take up tithes or "love offerings" every time He preached? Did He and His closest disciples take part time jobs in the towns they visited? Did Jesus and some of the disciples spend time begging at city gates and outside synagogues and the Temple? I doubt they did any of these things. It seems most likely to me that they were supported by the generosity of people they encountered during their missionary travels.

Being a priest or minister of the Gospel is demanding work. If the work is to be properly done, one must devote his time and attention to the labor, leaving little room for such mundane matters as earning a living and supporting a family. There have been, and surely continue to be, exceptions to this generalization. Paul, for example, made it quite clear that he supported himself—he was a tentmaker—during his missionary service.

When God established the rules for the Jewish theocracy, He set aside a part of the Hebrew nation for religious service. All other emplyment was forbidden to the priests and Levites. How were they to support themselves or their families? A portion of the tithes and sacrifices required of all Jews was used to sustain the priests, Levites and their families.

From the biblical accounts, it seems that not all the priests and Levites were content with their alloted portion of the tithes and sacrifices. Some found ways to add to their portion and become wealthy and powerful. Certainly Caiaphas had attained to great power and wealth. In the Gospels, we read of his palace (Matthew 26:3). Annas, the high priest, clearly exercised considerable authority (Acts 24:1).

Within a body of men who were forbidden outside employment, how is it that some could live in palaces and have such power as to be able to influence the decisions of the Roman Governor? Corruption? Could be.

We know that animals for sacrifice were for sale in the Temple. We know that any animal sacrificed was to be without blemish. Who certified an animal as free of blemish? Why the priests, of course. It takes no great stretch of the imagination to see how easy it would be for an animal's imperfections to disappear when covered by a coin or two in the proper pocket. As in today's Catholic Church, I do not doubt that some of the priest's of Jesus' time found it possible to absolve sin or ritual uncleanliness, in exchange for an appropriate compensation. Divorce is forbidden to Catholics, but a few bucks here and a few bucks there and a 50-year marriage just might be declared never to have existed. Not to suggest that some in the Catholic priesthood might be just a little bit venal.

I am no friend of religious television or radio programming. Certainly, not every person who buys broadcast time is using his "ministry" to line his own pockets, but plenty sure seem to be doing just that. Media ministers who use the broadcast bands to rake in the bucks from that gullible bunch who are easily bilked are not exclusive to Catholicism. There are plenty of non-Catholic "ministers" sucking the financial blood of the religiously gullible.

I read once that all the media monsters—erh, ministers—are supported by but three million people and that the bulk of these tend to be elderly.

9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.11 There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.--Ecclesiastes 1:9-11 (NIV)

I find no fault with a priest or minister being supported from the funds of his church. In fact, it is biblical that such be the case. (Deuteronomy 9:4; 1 Corinthians 9:8-10; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). What I do find fault with are preachers and bishops who live in million-dollar homes and drive Mercedes sedans while some in their congregations are barely getting by from day to day. What I do find fault with are congregations that set their pastors up like Middle Eastern potentates, yet supprt a few missionaries on a miserly pittance—if they support any missionaries at all. Get the idea?

I find particular fault with priests and full-time ministers who view weddings, baptisms, burials and memorial services as cash cows. Aren't such occasions part of job? Or have Americans bought into the idea that preachers and priests only need to work a day or two each week?

My friend Bill Scudder sent me a little poem, by an anonymous author, that addresses the behavior of such priests and ministers.

He spoke with such authority;
The man of faith we came to see.
He said "God has blessed me, with prosperity.
Why should I be ashamed, of what He's given to me?

He's got a new Continental, out in the back,
With three bodyguards, in case he is attacked,
He's the man of faith, fighting the fight,
But he's building his kingdom off the widow's mite.
And it's a shame, to Jesus name,
And it's a shame, to Jesus name.

We bought his books and his cassettes.
We got his new videotape.
He said God will bless you, let there be no mistake,
If you purchase my books and some of my tapes.

He's got a new Continental, out in the back,
And a Lear Jet, cause he's headed out fast.
He's the man of faith, fighting the fight,
But he's building his kingdom off the widow's mite.
And it's a shame, to Jesus name,
And it's a shame, to Jesus name.

Ole Leonard said, when we all get to heaven,
With riches there untold,
The TV preachers, with shovels in hand,
Will be digging up the streets of gold.

They got new Continentals, out in the back,
With three bodyguards, in case they are attacked.
They are men of faith, fighting the fight,
But they're building their kingdoms, off the widow's mite
And it's a shame, to Jesus name,
And it's a shame, to Jesus name.

A fitting closing for this post are the words of Solomon:

11 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.
12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil..
—Ecclesiastes 12:11-14 (KJV)

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