There was a moment of stunned silence at these words. Then Mr. Brent moved his oxygen tank just a bit and unnecessarily adjusted the breathing apparatus. He wheezed just a little bit.
“We have been absolutely faithful about our tithe. A full 10% of our income, small as it is, goes to the church.”
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of any of the persons or events portrayed to the real world is strictly coincidental. Copyright © 2015
Henry E. Neufeld
“Before taxes, too!” put in Mrs. Brent. Her husband looked calm. She looked affronted, as though someone had accused her of being unfaithful to her husband.
The pastor tried to open his mouth, but he didn’t have time to start speaking.
“We have been faithful members of the church for the last 50 years,” continued Mrs. Brent, “and to think that they’d send the pastor to suggest we weren’t paying enough or hadn’t been faithful! It’s just too much to bear!” The expression on her face suggested she didn’t intend to bear it either, at least not quietly.
“Now honey,” said Mr. Brent, again cutting off the pastor’s attempt to cut in, “we gave not expecting anything in return. It’s our pastor’s right to come and hold us accountable for our stewardship.”
“He has no right to accuse us of things we haven’t done! I know who started this,” she said, turning to the pastor. “It was that old biddy Mrs. Grace. What a misnomer that is! She’s never showed anyone any grace at all! I bet she suggested we were making more than our tithe would indicate. And I know she sneaks peaks at the church records when she visits the office. That church secretary has no clue about keeping those records confidential!”
The pastor again tried to open his mouth, but didn’t quite manage it. He’d wanted to say that Mrs. Grace had nothing to do with it, that he hadn’t even looked at the records himself. In fact, he would have never started a conversation like that except that he had been certain they’d understand that as such faithful givers he certainly wasn’t there to ask for money. Obviously he’d missed something!
“Now honey, the pastor hasn’t actually accused us of anything,” said Mr. Brent.
“And well he shouldn’t!” She turned back to the pastor. “Our voluntary giving has fallen, but that’s because of our medical bills. We simply cannot afford to give as much as we used to. We have to keep up our utility payments and for medical supplies. Medicare doesn’t cover everything, you know. Or maybe you don’t, being a young man. But there are considerable expenses. And you know the pension fund from the old plant went bust. Who knows when we’ll get anything from that.”
“Perhaps, honey, we should ask the young man what he’s here for,” said Mr. Brent.
“Well, to tell us we aren’t being faithful in our giving, right?” said Mrs. Brent, looking at the pastor again. He was, indeed, very young, she thought. And he looked stunned.
“So what are you here for?” she asked.
“Well,” he said, “you folks have been faithful members of the church for, what is it, 50 years?”
“We’ve been there for 57 years just last month,” said Mrs. Brent, now holding her head high. “And until all the health issues, we were there every Sunday. Every Wednesday too, and many other times.”
“Yes,” the pastor said, “that’s what people told me. Even Mrs. Grace.” He couldn’t resist that last remark, and he saw Mrs. Brent’s face tighten just a bit at the name. “But the reason I wanted to talk about tithing to you was not that I think you’ve given too little. I think you’ve given enough, and you may have given too much.”
“How’s that?” asked Mr. Brent. “You can’t outgive God!”
“True,” said the pastor, “but you can take away the opportunity your neighbors have for doing their duty to God.”
Mrs. Brent looked like the pastor had just transformed into an alien visitor, the sort who would leave a UFO parked on the front lawn.
Mr. Brent just remained calm as he said, “I think you’d better explain, young man.”
“You see,” the pastor replied, “in the church we’re supposed to care for one another. I could argue with you about whether tithing is the best way to do that, but we’ll leave that be for now. But your obligation to the church is matched by the church’s obligation to you, and by our shared obligation to all those in need. That means that there comes a time when the church is supposed to help you.”
“We’ve never accepted charity,” said Mr. Brent. “Social Security, Medicare, yes. We paid into those and we’re getting back what’s owed. But we aren’t looking for any handouts.”
“You have a lot of experience and common sense, Mr. Brent. I respect that. So I think you’ll understand me when I say that someone like you has contributed to the church in many ways over these last 57 years, and so have you, Mrs. Brent. That’s part of being a community. We all contribute, and we all benefit. I know you didn’t contribute because you meant to get benefits. You just did it. Now I happen to know that you are in serious financial need, and it’s time for you to benefit in turn. That’s what I meant about your tithe.
“God will reward your faithfulness, true. But he’s going to start rewarding it through your church. This is our opportunity to give to God as represented by two of the most faithful people anyone in the church knows. I know you need at least several hundred dollars to keep some of your utilities from being cut off and to pay property taxes.
“If you refuse this, you’re denying your fellow church members the joy of giving. I know it has turned into a burden over the last year or so, but for most of those 57 years you gave that tithe with joy! Now I like giving with joy and I’m not concerned with tithing so much. You can credit that to me being young and stupid, though I’d be happy to talk to you about it some time. But you do know about joy, and you do know about need.
“Now are you cruel enough people to deny me the pleasure of writing this check?” He pulled a checkbook out of his briefcase. He was armed with the church board’s authorization to “take care of the Brents.”
There were tears in the couple’s eyes as the pastor wrote the check. It hadn’t taken long to calculate the amount. The figures were burnt into both their minds.
“I’ll hold you to talking about tithe on your next visit,” said Mr. Brent as he took it from the pastor’s hand.
“As long as you won’t think I’m being impertinent,” said the pastor, looking at Mrs. Brent.
He left her blushing.
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