I call on all priests & ministers of the Gospel to rethink the meaning of our life and vocation as priests/ ministers. Each person should ask himself why he chose to become a priest or a Gospel minister. What does God expect of me as a priest? The priest is alter Christus, another Christ. What this means is that people who encounter me should be able to see the touching presence of Christ in and through me. They should be able to feel Chist's love and compassion, his care and concern. My words should reveal and reflect Christ's message of hope and salvation. During our retreat, I told the retreatants the story of a young priest (and this is a true story) who, intending to bamboozle his audience with high sounding theological terms, kept repeating to them "As a priest, I am altar Christi." And I said to him what do you mean by that? He replied, you know nah, it means another Christ. I corrected him. He intended to say "alter Christus". But I added, how I wish you meant the one you said, "altar Christi" because that is also a grammatically possible expression in Latin, and it means "altar of Christ". You see being a priest involves sacrifice. The priest should be ready to become the altar upon which the sacrifice of the Christian community will be offered. He should be ready to bear the sacrifice upon himself.
But what we find is a situation where the priest/pastor thinks he is there to enjoy life. The priest/minister of the Word craves a life of affluence and excessive wealth.
The minister/priest should take a look at the inaugural message of Christ in Luke 4,16-30 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor. .." The priest who models himself after Christ cannot but take seriously this mission to the poor. But what we find in the Church today is an overall exploitation of the poor masses. Some parish priest/pastors cannot begin and end a Sunday mass/without calling for two or more extra collections outside the regular offertory. This is highly unacceptable. I call this "exploitation of the people's faith and devotion." Presently Nigeria is going through one of the worst economic downturn in its history. Life is at its ebb. Families can't afford their food daily. Yet they somehow manage to give some to the Church and the priest. We should all be grateful for this. But the greedy priest is not satisfied with this. He must, like Oliver Twist, ask for more, and more and more, until the pockets are drained. That is exploitation. The priest should take cognisance of the real life situations of his flock. Part of our duty as priests in these hard times is to help our people to navigate through the difficulties that face them, and we cannot do this if we exploit them financially.
Let me give you another example of how we are exploiting the people. Recently the idea of tithes and tithing has crept into the Catholic Church in Igboland. Clearly this is one of those influences we are picking up from Pentecostalism. However, is it justitifiable biblically and otherwise? My answer is a categorical NO. In the Old Testament texts which speak about tithes, the whole idea was that of a redistribution of wealth, in order to make sure that the people who don't have would get something from those who have more. It was not something principally to be offered to priests or those who served at the altar. If you take Deut 14:22-29 for instance, this point becomes clear. I call on everyone, both priests and lay faithful to go and read this passage very well. The idea here is that there was an annual occasion for tithing, in which each family was to take one tenth (i.e. the tithe) of their year's produce to the temple, and there in the temple the family itself (not the priests) will together eat what they have brought. In their feasting however, they are enjoined not to forget the Levites, "because they have no property or inheritance". They should also remember to share some of it with "the resident foreigner, the orphan and the widow." So tithing as the book of Deuteronomy makes clear is an occasion for feasting, in which a part of it is shared with the poor, namely the Levites, the resident foreigners, the widows and orphans.
One may argue that the priests are the Levites of our time. That may be correct, but in this passage what entitles the Levites to a share in the tithe is not his serving the Lord, but the fact of his possessing no property. The priests of today (or in the Protestant and Pentecostal churches, the pastor, minister, evangelist) all have possessions: cars, landed property, fat bank accounts, etc. They no longer belong to the poor who were meant to eat the tithes with the people. The primary concern in the Deuteronomic law on tithes is that the people, by means of a communion meal before the Lord, involving one tenth of their produce, should recognise God as the one who gave the land and its increase, and that they should share it with those who do not have.
When we come to the famous passage in Malachi 3, God laments that the people rob him by not bringing in their tithes. This passage in Malachi can only be interpreted in reference to the bringing in of tithes means in Deuteronomy. That is to say, God laments that people were not bringing their tithes to the temple to eat as the Law requires, but were eating them them at home. And by doing so, the poor people including the Levites, the widows and orphans, could not get their own share. God's concern for the poor is offended.
Now leaving the Bible aside, let's talk of morality and justice. What moral justification can a priest/pastor who owns a car, sometimes the latest model in town, has millions in his bank account, owns buildings all over, lives in Parish house that is paid for and catered for by the parishioners, whose feeding and overhead expenses are taken care of by others. What moral justification can such a person ever have to demand that a poor parishioner, whose earning is so meagre, should give him 10% of it, under false pretence that you are the modern day Levite. There is a huge difference. The difference is that the modern day priest/pastor is, to say the least, well-to-do while the ancient Levite was destitute. When the priest or minister or pastor under the pretext of being a Levite, demands tithes from his congregation, that would amount to exploitation and forming part of the oppressive machinery. Only a warped sense of rightness, fuelled by egoism, will allow that.
So my advice to fellow priests/pastors/ministers of the Word is that we should keep the seeking of self interest and financial gains by the side and focus on service to the people.
On a further note, discipline and self control are very important in our lives as priests/pastors.
Pls forward this message if you found it enlightening and eye-opening. Help save our poor masses from the greed of those who should know better.....