“Do not appear before God empty-handed (Deut 16,16-17)”

by John Wijngaards, LAWS FOR LIFE Series in the New Leader, 20 May 1973

“No one may appear before the Lord empty-handed. Every man must give what he can, in proportion to the Blessing that the Lord, your God, gives you.” (Deuteronomy 16, 16-17)

In ancient times it was the custom that smaller kings (the vassals) who had put themselves under the protection of a strong king (the sovereign) should appear before their overlord at least once a year. Normally this was laid down as a condition in the vassalty contract. At the occasion of paying his visit to the sovereign, the vassal was expected to bring the annual taxes: the sheeps’ wool, the corn, the wine, the ivory, the silver and gold, and everything else that had been stipulated by the overlord as annual payment for protecting the vassal.

When God made a covenant with His chosen people, He patterned it on the model of these vassalty treaties. One of the conditions was that the Israelites had to appear before His face at least three times a year, This was a very old law recorded three times in the Old Testament (Ex. 23, 17; 34, 23; Dt. 16, 16). And to this ancient law was added the warning: “No one may appear before the Lord empty-handed”. Just as no vassal would dream of paying his annual visit to his overlord without bringing at the same time the required taxes and some extra gifts over and above, so no Israelite should dare to appear in the Lord’s sanctuary without a presentation of appropriate gifts. These gifts could partly consist of the tenths and tithes which one had to bring at certain festivals, and partly of free-will offerings that one could bring according to one’s own liking and pleasure. The lawgivers of the past understood that not everj one would be able to give the same amount. Therefore they add the explanation that every man must give what he can, in proportion to the blessings he has received from the Lord.

Readiness to Give

Before Almighty God all of us are beggars and in need of help. Yet, God expects that we do not appear before Him empty-handed. From the blessings He has given us we must be ready to assign a portion to God Himself, to be used either for the expenses of religious worship, for the maintenance of God’s ministers or for the general service and welfare of our fellow humans. Good intentions and words are simply not good enough in this matter. We should express our indebtedness to God by deeds: by offering to Him some of the material blessings which He has granted to us.

Became of the poor condition of many Catholics in the first missionary stages of the Church, many have grown accustomed to go to Holy Mass on Sunday without contributing their adequate share to the ministry of the Church. The offertory which is supposed to provide us with an opportunity of seeing our own small gifts taken to the altar and united with the infinite offering of the Body and Blood of Christ Himself, has become for many churchgoers a mere formality. It is true, of course, that the main gift we have to offer’ to God is our own selves, our soul, our innermost being and our will. But this gift of everything we stand for, should be expressed and symbolized in a real contribution taken from the material goods we enjoy through God’s blessings.

There may be occasions in life when we honestly cannot contribute anything during a Eucharistic eelebration. God does not expect everything at the same time, nor does He need our gifts in themselves. In those circumstances we can with a free conscience assist at Mass and offer Him sincerely our whole being. But when we have the possibility, let us not be stingy in offering to God. As someone said; “You are only really giving when it hurts you.” God expects you to give “in proportion to the blessing He will give you.” And if God is so generous in dealing with us, can we not part with a small portion of such blessing?