You don’t hear that word much anymore – parsimony. It can mean frugal, but this is extreme. It is penny pinching, Scrooge-like behavior. It can also mean stingy. Hardhearted. Meanness or tightness.
When I think of parsimony, I think of people like Jeff Bezos who is worth nearly $200 billion. If this was miles, you could travel around the earth 8 million times. If you could save $100,000 a year, it would take you 2 million years to save $200 billion. If you could live for 200 billion minutes, you be nearly 381,000 years old.
Yet, Bezos and others like him spend their money to fly into orbit and back, saying thanks to his customers and employees for their contributions to his frivolity. While we see no evidence of any significant, personal interest in contributing to the welfare of human beings. That’s parsimony.
Cain, in the book of Genesis, appears to have offered a sacrifice to God in the least costly (to him) way possible. Probably with his bruised and insignificant vegetables rather than his biggest, most beautiful crops. God was not happy. That’s parsimony too.
David, in 2 Samuel 24:24, came face to face with parsimony when a man named Arunah offered to donate, to David, the land on which David wished to offer a sacrifice of sorrow and repentance to God. David was, no doubt, grateful for the gesture, but he said to Arunah, “No, I will buy threshing floor and its tools from you for a price. I will not offer a sacrifice to the Lord my God that costs me nothing.”
Parsimony is not about the gift; it’s about the heart. A parsimonious person will ask, “How little can I get by with?” A generous person will ask, “How much good can I do?”
Jesus seems to contrast the two qualities when he was in the Temple with his disciples watching people make donations in the donation box. It appears he is comparing the generosity of the little widow who gives all that she has versus the wealthy who gave far less than they were capable of.
The point of the observation is not to say that the widow’s giving her last two coins was good, but rather that her generosity was exemplary and something from which the wealthy could learn.
Parsimony can also be expressed in units of time, exertion, compassion, and a host of other things. Malachi chastised Judah because of her utter parsimony resulting in God getting short-changed. If you think of all of one’s life as a commodity, it is easier to calculate whether one is trying to use a Cain strategy or place all of life under God’s rule.