This article is from Fred Faller. It appears in a series that can be found at www.immerland.com.
"Money to Burn"
Herm Foley drummed the fingers of his left hand on the table top. Before him on the Formica surface lay a single dollar bill that had seen many years in the wallets of men and the purses of women and had probably even seen its share of vending machines, though Herm doubted that it would work in one any longer.
It was mid April, but the snow from a late-winter storm that left icy roads gray skies depressed the usual bright scene from Herm''s favorite seat in the Elbib café. He was there for lunch, as usual, and waiting for his friend Eutychus Scrub who joined him every Monday for his Elbib special: meatloaf, mashed potato and asparagus.
"Is that my tip?"
Herm looked up at Gracie, the gangly gum-snapping waitress who ran everything about the café this side of the counter. "No but I was just thinking...
"Uh oh," Gracie said as she pulled her order pad from the pocket of her apron. "The usual?"
Herm nodded, "but I want to wait until Mr. Scrub gets here."
"No problem." Gracie gave a quick smile. "Better put that dollar away. Someone might think you''re a cheapskate." The gum snapped as Gracie turned away to answer the hawking of another meal that sat ready under the heat lamps behind the counter.
Herm was trying to decide whether the comment was an insult or a joke when his friend Eutychus slipped through the door of the café and turned to spot Herm in his place. Eut''s eyebrows shot up above his smile when he saw his friend. Five quick steps brought him to the table. "Big spender today, eh?"
"Good to see you too, Eut."
"What''ll it be today?" Gracie yelled from the counter.
"Yeah, you," Gracie said.
"Greek, but keep it light on the oil. Hot tea, lemon and no sugar."
"You got it."
Eutychus turned back to his lunch buddy. "What''s up?"
"I was just thinking..."
Herm''s fingers drummed on the table. Eutychus knew it meant that they were in for a deep discussion about something. "Do you know that when a dollar bill gets old and worn like this that the Federal Reserve takes it and burns it?" Herm picked up the bill and snapped it straight between his two hands.
Yeah, I''d heard about that..."
"''But if you take this same dollar and burn it, it''s a federal crime?"
"So don''t you think that''s odd. I mean, if I want to burn money that I earned, why should they care?"
Eutychus scratched his head. "But, why would you want to do that?"
"Well, I was just thinking..."
"You''re always just thinking," Eutychus smiled.
"No, this is important," Herm replied.
"To everyone, of course!"
"Not to me," Gracie interrupted as she plunked a plate down in front of Herm. "Elbib special," she said, "meatloaf and mashed, and a salad for the kind Mr. Scrub."
And the tea?" asked Eutychus.
"Right, hot tea," she said with a frown as she wiped her hands on her apron, "lemon, no sugar."
Eutychus nodded as she wheeled away from the table on her heel. He stuck his fork into the salad and slowly lifted out a piece of spinach that was dripping with olive oil. "Didn''t I say, ''light on the oil''?"
Herm shrugged. "Gracie."
"So -- the dollar bill"...
"Do you know much about sheep?" asked Herm as shook the ketchup down in the bottle.
"What does this have to do with your dollar bill?" Eutychus watched Herm try to dislodge the ketchup onto his meatloaf.
"I worked on a sheep farm once," Herm continued, "just for a summer, don''t you know, but it was a great experience."
"What does this have to do with you dollar bill?" Eutychus insisted. He looked up at his friend.
Herm looked back with that special twinkle in his eye. "I''m getting there," he said as he stuffed the first forkful of meatloaf into his mouth. "Mmmmm."
Eutychus took the opportunity to delve into his salad while Herm tormented him with his silent enjoyment of his Elbib special meatloaf.
"We had about one hundred and fifty ewes in the flock," Herm mumbled around his meatloaf, "and we had eight rams to service all of them. That''s about the right ratio, you see, thirty ewes to each ram."
Eutychus nodded and sipped his tea.
"A ram is good for about four years so every year the farmer had to pick the two best rams out of the new lambs that were born that season."
"Because a ram is good for four years, right? With eight rams, you replace two every year."
Eutychus nodded. It was easy math.
"So the two oldest got retired and two ram lambs were chosen based on breeding qualities. This way over a period of years, the farmer could breed for anything he desired: short neck, thick wool, color, stuff like that."
"How many did he have to choose from?"
Herm swallowed a forkful of mashed potatoes. He was an entertaining man to watch sometimes and he really loved his food. When he opened his eyes after his tasting experience, he smiled. "Well, the hundred fifty ewes delivered about a hundred lambs and about half, as one might expect, were ram lambs."
"And what happened to the other forty eight?"
"They were castrated and at the end of the summer -- off to market -- along with the two retired rams and all the ewes that would not make it through the next winter."
Have to keep the flock healthy," Herm continued as he sipped from his water glass, "and the island couldn''t support more than the hundred fifty through the winter anyway."
Eutychus put an olive into his mouth as he waited, and chewed it gently to remove the pit with his tongue.
"So anyway, God comes down and says to the farmer --"
"I''m going Old Testament here for a minute." Herm continued, "Just stick with me."
"But the dollar bill?"
"I''m getting there. I''m getting there." Herm loved to tease. "So God says to the farmer, he says, ''Take the best ram lamb you have, one of the two that you just selected for the future strength of your flock and take it over to the stone wall and kill it. Build a big fire and burn the thing until there is nothing left. The smoke from the fire is like incense in my nostrils.''
"So the farmer, well, he begins arguing with God, you see: ''I don''t understand. If I do that, I won''t have breeding stock to make flock better. In a few years I''ll have nothing but a bunch of scrawny sheep that won''t be worth a flip."
"God speaks back and says: ''Guess you''ll just have to trust me on this one.''"
"I''m not sure I get it," Eutychus confessed.
"Well, God wanted the shepherd to trust that even if he gave his very best, the finest and most perfect ram lamb, the chosen future of the flock, that God would take care of him and his flock."
"Hmmm. Never thought of it that way," Eutychus said.
"It''s even more interesting," Herm continued, "when you realize that the farmer gets absolutely nothing for the ram he has sacrificed. He doesn''t even get to eat any of it, sell the wool -- nothing! And no one else does either. Even God just gets a nose full of smoke. So what is it all for?"
Eutychus was thinking. He had never thought much about the sacrifices in the Old Testament. He always thought it was a bit cruel and crude, but Herm''s description had an interesting twist. It was really a matter of trust. Not only did the farmer get nothing out of it directly, but he had to trust that God would come through in some way for his sacrifice and that in the long run, his flock would be stronger than if he took matters into his own hands and kept his breeding rams for himself.
"Now back to the dollar."
Eutychus had a mouthful of spinach when Herm spoke. He looked up.
"You give money to your church, right?" Herm spoke over the rim of his glass of water before he took a sip and set the glass down deliberately.
Eutychus swallowed. "Yes -- a fair amount actually."
"Is it a sacrifice or a donation?"
Eutychus had never thought about it very hard. "I guess it''s both," he said, "but what do you mean?"
I mean, do you care what happens to it after you give it? Like, if you didn''t believe it was being used well, for example, would you stop giving or give less?" Herm took another forkful of potatoes. He paused just before he put them in his mouth and waited for Eutychus to answer.
"What do you mean?" Eutychus asked.
Herm put his fork down. "Well, suppose the leadership in the church, was using it for things that you did not think appropriate? Suppose you felt that they were getting, well, paid too much or maybe their yearly retreats were a little too extravagant. Suppose one of them was outright stealing -- embezzling from the treasury."
It was a good question. The men and women who were paid by Eut''s church seemed to be honorable and he had no reason to think that they would do such things, but it did pose an interesting dilemma. He was not sure what the real answer was for himself, but he played into Herm''s point. "I guess I might consider holding back until the situation got straightened out," he said.
"Why?" Herm shot back as he put the forkful of potatoes in his mouth.
"I didn''t come here for an inquisition, Herm."
"I guess I feel like I''m giving to a purpose," Eutychus continued, "trying to accomplish something and if the people I give it to are abusing it, then it would be okay to hold them accountable and, if necessary, to withhold it from them to force the issue."
"So you''re saying that somehow, you get some tangible benefit if the money is well taken care of and used. Perhaps a good feeling about orphans you have helped, or some other need was being met, right?"
"Suppose there were no such benefit, like the little lamb, up in smoke," Herm made a little explosion movement with his hands and rolled his eyes like smoke disappearing by magic. "I mean, suppose the church took up a cash contribution one week and then you all went out behind the church and burned it before God."
"You said that would be illegal."
"Very! That''s why I said ''suppose.''" Herm was smiling.
Eutychus mopped the salad dressing out of his bowl with the pita bread that had come with the salad. "That would make me a bit uncomfortable," he confided, "but it would put an interesting spin on the motives of my giving." Eutychus looked up. Herm was waiting patiently. "And I think I would be more conscious that I was giving it to God instead of to men for God''s work."
Herm changed directions again. "Do you think Jesus knew that Judas was stealing from his treasury?"
"He must have." Eutychus said. "At least some one must have known -- I mean, it got written into the Bible."
"Yet there is no indication that he said anything about it -- or did anything about it."
Eutychus put his fork into the empty salad bowl and pushed it toward the center of the table.
"And when Jesus was watching the people putting money in the temple treasury, and the old woman came and put in everything she had, he didn''t even comment about the fact that it was all going to the temple that was run by the priests and Pharisees. He just marveled at her faith and her sacrifice -- her willingness to give to God no matter how much it hurt and who was using it and how." Herm shook his wrist out of his sleeve and glanced at his watch. He laid his fork and knife neatly on his plate, crumpled up his napkin and dropped it ceremonially on top of it all and looked up and smiled.
Eutychus knew his friend well enough to know that Herm was finished with his lunch and his story. Gracie sidled up to the table on the cue. "Anything else, gentlemen?"
Herm looked at Eutychus and raised his eyebrows. Eutychus looked up at the expectant Gracie and smiled. "Not today, thanks."
Gracie already knew. She tore the bill from her pad and dropped it on the table as she hurriedly stacked the plates and took the whole evidence of lunch away with her in one trip.
Herm took the bill from the table. "My turn," he said as he fingered the bill, doing the math in his head.
"Twenty percent," Eutychus said.
"Give her a twenty percent tip, at least. She does a great job, right?"
Herm nodded as he fingered the bills in his wallet.
"Consider it a donation," Eutychus added.
Herm smiled as he put the bills on the table. "Right," he said, "money to burn."