On Stewardship and the Orthodox Life - Part 81: Giving Without Love

“…one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another…” (Mark 12:28 RSV)

A reading of the Gospel according to St. Mark reveals the appearance of scribes on several occasions. Scribes in ancient Israel were learned men whose business was to study the Law, transcribe it, and write commentaries on it. In Mark’s Gospel the scribes who show up do so as opponents of Jesus. For example, Mark tells us that the scribes ask questions of Jesus, and make comments that throw an negative light on what Jesus was doing (see Mark 2:16; 3:22; 7:5).

However, in one instance, Jesus, in discussion with a scribe, says, You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34 RSV). This should make any reader of Mark’s Gospel take notice. What did that scribe, that opponent of Jesus, say that would evoke this response from Jesus? The scribe responded to Jesus’ assertion that the whole law revolved around love for God and neighbor: “…you have truly said that (God) is one, … to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:32-33 RSV).

Why did Jesus say that this scribe was not far from the kingdom of God? The scribe understood that everything we do, including what we consider very important, is not as important as love for God and neighbor. What was considered among the people of God as very important were “burnt offerings and sacrifices.” In our words today, this means that loving God and neighbor is more important even than our sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy and prayer.

For Christian stewards, we often talk in our parishes about tithing or pledge cards or proportionate giving. These things, as well, can be considered our own “burnt offerings and sacrifices.” It is easy to get caught up with stewardship as a program that prescribes how and how much we contribute to the life of the Church.

There is an old stewardship saying: “People can give without loving; but no one can love without giving.” Let us not make stewardship just another church program. Speaking for true stewards everywhere, hear the Holy Prophet Isaiah: “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD;…when you come to appear before me…bring no more vain offerings; … wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:11, 16-17 RSV). People can give without loving; but no one can love without giving.

This weekly series of brief thoughts on stewardship and Orthodox life is brought to you by your Diocesan Stewardship Commission.

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