On Gratuity: How We Handle Our Money Reflects Our View of God
A few days ago I saw a post on Reddit which has now gained some national attention through The Huffington Post. It depicts a customer’s bill (see below) with a crossed out tip line and a scribble on the top which reads “I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?”.
The signature, presuming the bill is legitimate, comes from the hand of a pastor. I am not sure if this minister somehow had it in his head that he was doing the waiter a good thing by not lavishing him with extra money; I am not sure if he really thought his 10% of a salary was analogous to 18% of a bill; I am not sure if this minister somehow thought that when this young man read the bill that he would suddenly be convicted of his sin, repent, and turn to a relationship with Christ. What I can say is that this minister reflected his own greed in this instance and was obviously unaware–or unwilling to acknowledge–that he was detracting from the individuals income (wait service is an implied tip, not an optional one–especially if you have a good waiter); I can say that the gratuity of his bill was not at all analogous to his own salary; and I can say that this young man may have been turned off from Christianity completely. I pray that this is not so.
This is not really a rant about that particular issue, though I did wait tables all the way through high school, college, and graduate school. The opportunity of doing this for a part-time to full-time job left me with an interesting observation: many Christians are terrible at giving! Having spent years waiting tables, I thought it was ironic how many evangelical Christians would leave the lowest tips, treat their waiters and waitresses with snobbery and near contempt, and then leave a $2.00 tip–usually the insult was added to when an individual would put one of those $1,000,000 witnessing tracts down underneath the pitifully small tip. Indeed, I can tell you, as a Christian, I was less than excited when “the Church crowd” would come in, mostly because I knew that I would walk out of the restaurant with five tracts and half the tips.
Let me ask a question: What are we doing with out money? If we’re content with merely channeling our 10% (if that) through the Church and then forgetting about the rest of the world, then we are failing to use our money in a godly fashion. We may hope that our churches are sending money out to the poor, to the damaged homes, to effective ministries, etc. But often we don’t really know and often church’s are only able to take in enough to pay their own bills and salaries! Meanwhile, we often fail to donate towards those we meet on the street, those in the more immediate need.
I’m guilty of it. A few months ago I met a lady who asked if my company had any spare change. Her car had run out of gas and she was on her way to a funeral. I could tell she wasn’t a local; She looked dirty and unkempt, not like she was going to say farewell to a family member; and I remember wondering “what kind of trick is she pulling?” That thought, however, took over a burden in my chest–a calling which said “Help her. Do this for her.” The fact is, as I walked away, I judged her situation and it was not mine to judge. There was a call inside me to pay for her gas and I suppressed it as I walked away to go inquire about the “spare change” (knowing full well we don’t keep that stuff on hand). As I came back towards the front to give her that unfortunate news, I witnessed a customer praying with her. I’m sure he didn’t care for her smell but he stood close; and I’m sure he didn’t presume that she was a Christian, but he still prayed with her that blessings would shower down on her in future months. He was personable, not preachy. He was inviting, not infiltrating. And then he did what I should have done: he went to pay for her gas.
In that moment, I was no better than the pastor who screwed the waiter out of earned work; and while I kept my thoughts to myself, I internally rejected the idea that I should help this lady. I presumed her situation; I judged her intentions; and I was greedy with my own finances. To that lady, I am sorry and to this waiter who posted this receipt on Reddit, I apologize. This is not what we are called to do with our money since it is not really ours. We are called to be generous…responsible, but generous.
So, here’s my suspicion: if we give to the world, the Church will bloom. You ask how this works? We spend so much of our time, especially in terrible economies, in maintenance mode. Churches, ministries, organizations, and individuals devote so much energy to making sure that we don’t “drop” below a certain financial status. But when we spend so much time keeping our money rolling in we end up distracted from the ways the world needs our generosity. Suddenly, we are perceived more like the dining pastor than we are of the good Samaritan (Lk 10.35, ‘The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’). If we allow Christ to use us in giving freely, how can those who have received not credit God with the generosity? The Church will fill up, the pews will become full, and the financial burdens which so many of us as individuals and organizations face will become much less so. Christ paid the debt we could not pay; I think we can spare a few bucks.
Look for ways to invest in those that need you. This means buying a meal, forgiving a debt, paying a bill, etc. It means allowing our “standard” of life and our “maintenance” to decrease so that others may increase. It means–as radical as this is–putting others before ourselves. “Freely you have received; freely you give.” (Mt 10.8)