The Pas Proper / Ordinary 32 – Pentecost + 25 – Trinity + 24
11 November 2018
Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17
Psalm 127 pg 886
God of fierce justice,
you close the mouth of those
who hide behind their prayer
as they devour the poor:
humbled by the giving of those who have so little,
let us live from your abundance;
through Jesus Christ, the judgement of God. Amen.
Today’s gospel is one that I contemplate often, especially when we talk about, or consider anything in regard to the finances of the church. When we look at the how and where the building and the property need to be repaired/updated for the longevity of the building as a meeting place for those of faith to gather.
And I’ve seen and heard this passage to be one to support a life of giving generously, of stewardship, of plenty.
Simultaneously, I’ve seen and heard of this passage being used as a way to discourage that same life of generous stewardship of our resources.
But what Jesus shows us, oh so clearly, today, isn’t the financial disparity, the distance in the strata of society, between those with wealth and those in poverty.
Rather he points out the spirit of generosity, the honest generous and lifegiving stewardship that is played out before us, today.
It’s often said that if you want something to be done, to ask a busy person to do it. The reason for this is simple: the busy person will do the requested task quickly and efficiently in order to return to their ongoing list of tasks.
In the same way, we are able to see a similar air of generosity, of stewardship amongst those who live the homeless lifestyle.
Now, I’m not talking about those who are amongst the homeless in order to get things, or to make social connections, but otherwise have homes and places to go to, at the end of a day, a week, a month, or even a season.
But if you give food to someone who is truly homeless, they will share it with the person next to them.
In the same way, a group of Europeans was bringing aid and education to a tribal community in Africa. At one point there was a bushel of apples and the children wanted some.
The children were told to race to a distant tree and the child who reached it first would receive an apple from the bushel. So, the children all joined hands and collectively ran to the tree, reaching it together.
When asked why they did this, the children said that this way everyone would receive an apple.
In today’s gospel, Jesus isn’t talking about money, although wealth and the wealthy are his example, rather he’s talking about stewardship. He’s talking about generosity, he’s talking about abundance where we only see scarcity.
When we talk, when we describe our circumstances, we often do so with a language of scarcity.
We bemoan what we don’t have, what economic milestones we’ve not reached, what barriers stand between us and our personal financial goals instead of what we do have, and what blessings are ours.
We more willingly complain, instead of offer praise and thanks.
So, today, Jesus talks about the greed of the affluent.
“Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.” (Mk 12:38b-40a)
But he contrasts it with the example of the poor widow.
“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mk 12:43b-44)
And still, today, we see the rich getting richer, and more miserly with their wealth.
(Interestingly, when Jesus says “they gave out of their wealth” for some reason I see Disney’s Scrooge McDuck diving through his vaults.)
At the same time, we see the example of Dickens’ Scrooge and Marley infecting the whole world, as they sit huddled before an inadequate fire wondering which of them will eat the bit of underdone potato, and which will get the bit of overboiled meat in their share of a supper for one.
These men: miserly, tight fisted, and miserable only because their measure of happiness is looking at the bottom line, so, they’re never happy.
“41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.” (Mk 12:41-42)
And here is our contrast. Here is our example.
Sure, we want to save for a rainy day, we want to ensure that there is enough to see us decently buried, we want to travel, we want to be seen amongst our friends as a generous individual.
But when were asked to talk about our obvious financial affluence, we revert to a language and a mindset of scarcity, so that others don’t stand there with their hands out, looking for aid in their own financial situations.
We say we’re not bad, but not great.
We need to save for a rainy day.
We need to have in the bank for those unseen emergencies, etc.
And Jesus talks about the widow “43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”” (Mk 12:43-44)
And as usual, we will gloss over this section because its uncomfortable. We’ll ignore Jesus words, here, because they are hard to comprehend how someone can give out of their poverty?
We don’t understand how someone can give without holding anything back for tomorrow, for that rainy day, for those future arrangements to travel, pay the bills, or even cover future burial costs.
So, this is why we need to look at this, why we need to understand what it is that Jesus tells us, today.
We all want to be those with affluence. We want to be those who are well dressed, and handing over, with great ceremony, their “large amounts.”
But really whose to say what’s in those sacks they’re so cavalierly handing over to those collecting the temple offering? Whose to say that its not a large sack filled with quarters, or loonies, or toonies so that it looks like a large amount, but in reality, is only a modest amount that the giver feels is adequate to meet his responsibilities to support his faith.
These are the same people he points out earlier in the gospel “They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.” (Mk 12:38b-39)
They are those who wish to be seen as worthy of receiving others respect because of their position of financial affluence. But they will attain that affluence by oppressing the less fortunate, by repossessing the homes of widows, and by overt public signs of their faith, and their prayers.
But for all of their financial affluence, for all of their desire to be seen as generous, as worthy of respect and praise by the community around them, Jesus points out that they don’t live up to their own press.
For all of their desire to be generous, they give as much as is needed to be seen as generous.
But this poor widow, this one woman living in poverty, who hasn’t got enough to go grocery shopping, now, has given everything. She has given from her poverty, not looking beyond this act of faith based benevolence, because its all she can muster, and she knows that she will be repaid in ways she cannot even imagine.
She gives abundantly from everything that she has.
So, here we are.
How are we going to respond to this call from Jesus to live so much more generously than we feel, at this moment, that we are able to live?
How are we going to turn our personal language of scarcity around and live generously, and with abundance to the whole of the world?
I had a Lutheran colleague who made a good salary, between he and his wife. They tried tithing at the recommended 10%, but didn’t feel that it made a difference to how they lived their lives. They felt like those in the example who were making public pronouncement of their giving.
So, they increased their tithing to where it felt like it was a choice to either give, or to live, and in response, they gave.
They gave to the church, they gave to their favourite charities, they gave until it hurt.
They gave until it was giving from their poverty, but still they gave.
And did it hurt them to do this? Rather the opposite was felt. They had the ability to do this, the responsibility to live into their income generously, to set the examples for those around them, and to trust God to see them through.
Whether we live abundantly or from a position of scarcity is our own choice, but where is God in the giving? Where is Christ in our acts of generosity? Who are we helping by holding back?
We don’t have to be like those who are publicly giving, but rather we can make our acts of generosity in private, in the confidence of anonymity.
At the same time, I would encourage us to embrace the widow’s example. She may not have given much in an economic sense, but she gave all that she had.
She, by modern language, gave until it hurt, and she did so without comment, without commentary, without fanfare, and without showmanship.
Her example is often dismissed because she does it quietly and she does it as she is able. What does our example look like, as we give from our abundance?