This post was written by Kenneth Pruitt, Director of Volunteer Management and Service Learning at IVC partner agency Kingdom House in St. Louis. It is part of a series of meditations he has written on each of Luther’s “95 Theses.” You can view all posts in the series here.
Thesis 27. They preach man-made doctrine who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].
I grew up not too far from my grandparents on my mother’s side. We visited there quite frequently, and for many years, my brother and I were the only two grandchildren on that side of the family. Needless to say, we were rather spoiled because of it. Our grandfather saved a lot of his change from selling his coat hangers back to the dry cleaner and deposited them as silver dollars into a little bank in the shape of a Model-T Ford. Two or three bucks apiece usually awaited my brother and me with every opening of the car bank. It was glorious.
Years later, it occurred to me how much time and energy went into building up even that small amount of savings. Driving back to the store with the hangers. Counting all of them out with the clerk. Taking back all those pennies, nickels, and dimes and changing them back in for the shiny silver dollars my brother and I loved so much. He wasn’t doing this to, in any way, earn our love. He loved us, and that was his way of showing it. And dropping that change into the bank week in and week out didn’t earn him anything more or less than our appreciation for a grandfather doing what grandfathers do.
Something has happened in our churches with the way that we give. We do it begrudgingly, as a chore. We do it in response to a burning sense of guilt. We take our sweet time with doing the math so that we’re giving our ten percent and no more than that. That 90% is ours, God. Hands off. We gave you yours. Let us keep ours. And in the act of giving, we seem to shift our faith lives into neutral. We have done our good deeds, performed our penitent acts, done passing-grade work. That’s good enough. My soul has flown from purgatory. I don’t have to work quite as hard now. I’ve earned my spot.
What if we gave so much that it was painful? I mean, so much that it made us poor, too. We would probably have to end up relying on those around us. And I don’t mean in the way that I could move back in with my parents or ask for a few hundred bucks if I really had to. I mean leaning back hard into the arms of those whom we trust because we’ve built our lives with them in a way that is interwoven into the Spirit.
What if money was just one more way we attempted, in our feeble mortal way, to show our love for God? Would we really want to stop at a preset number? Wouldn’t we start to see ourselves as temporary stewards of resources that were never ours to begin with, and won’t be ours after we’re gone? As someone with lots of privilege in our culture, I certainly operate way too often under the false notion that I’ve somehow earned what I have, and that I therefore get to do with it as I please. One for you, God, and nine for me.
May we stop listening for the flutter of our souls out of purgatory as we jingle our pennies into the money-box. May we lose track of our generosity, financially and otherwise, because we are so filled to the brim with love for God and neighbor. May we hold onto the things we possess loosely, for they never were and never will be ours to begin with.
Kenneth J. Pruitt is the Director of Volunteer Management & Service Learning at Kingdom House, an IVC partner agency focused on social services and founded during the settlement house movement. Sometimes he blogs, tweets, or hangs out on Facebook. He is proud of St. Louis, his adopted home. His wife is far more attractive and intelligent than he. He loves what you’ve done with your hair.