Giving Our All? (November 11, 2018)
Jesus is sitting down outside the Temple, watching the treasury box.
He has just finished criticizing the religious leaders of the day. “Watch out for them. They demand to be respected; they’re always taking the best seats in the house; they expect that people will pay attention to them. Watch out for them.”
It’s not just Jewish religious leaders. There are such in every generation. Watch out for them … the televangelists wearing fancy pinkie rings, living in huge mansions, buying more jets. Watch out for those who love to wear fine robes and chasubles and stoles. Watch out for those who buy $4000 silk suits, claiming they need to appear to be successful to entice others to be part of their church. Watch out for those who build huge churches to satisfy their own ego.”
And now Jesus sits there, watching them make a show of placing their large offerings on the plate.
Along comes a poor widow. You barely even notice her. She’s been so beaten down by life, that she hides in the shadows. She’s mostly bent over by the burdens of life.
And she puts in a couple of copper coins. Hardly anything. You can’t run a Temple on tiny offerings like that.
And Jesus points her out to his disciples, to us, and says, “Look at her. See her. Notice her. She has put in more than anyone else. She gave all she had to live on.”
Really, Jesus? Two pennies? More than anyone else?
In God’s economy, we measure differently. “Everyone else,” says Jesus, “the rest of them gave what was left over. But she put in everything she had. Not just one penny … which would have been 50%. She gave both pennies. All she had to live on.” The word in Greek is βίος (bios) … which means life. She gave her life.
Then the preacher gets a–hold of this story and tells us that this widow is a model for us. She gave her all. So should we.
It’s interesting that this reading should land on Remembrance Day this year, as we honour those who did give their all.
But if we are honest with ourselves, and if the preacher is honest in preaching, when we really tell the truth, few, if any of us, are like this widow.
Sure, we gladly offer a part of what we have for God’s mission in the world. But our all? No way! We’ve got bills to pay, mortgages to cover, food to buy, heat and clothing, a retirement to take care of … and toys we want.
Give our all? I don’t think so.
Part of the reason is that it’s hard for us to give. It’s not a natural behaviour for us.
The first words out of our mouths when we are infants are “Mama” and “Dada”. The second word we learn is “No!” And the third word we learn is “Mine!”
It takes a lifetime for us to unlearn that word. Some of us hold on to it until the day we die.
As a result, when we give, we don’t give freely. We give with strings attached. Use my money the way I want you to…or else. If I give you a lot of money, put a stone up with my name etched on it for eternity, or name a room after me, or establish a fund in my name. After all, what’s the point of giving my money if it doesn’t keep up appearances or enhance my reputation?
The truth is that we don’t want to be like this poor widow. Who wants to be alone? Dependent? Destitute? Who wants to have to rely on the goodness of others?
And notice as well that Jesus never says we ought to follow in her footsteps. He simply notices her, and invites us to notice her as well …
… and then he helps us learn a truth about ourselves.
I think that’s the point of this story. It tells a truth about ourselves — which is that we’re pretty good at ignoring this widow, ignoring the poor and destitute, ignoring residential school survivors, ignoring alcoholics and drug addicts, ignoring refugees except for the occasional buck or two we give to help a good cause, ignoring all the ways in which we are being called to serve in this world.
Why do we ignore the need?
Because if we see this widow, if we really see all the need around us — well then it might demand this kind of sacrifice. And we don’t wanna …
Wow. That’s harsh.
But sit with it for a bit. Is it true? I know that sometimes for me, it is true. Sometimes I don’t see the need because I’m too tired, too busy, I’ve got too many things to do. I don’t see the need … because I don’t want to. There is a fine line between empathy and pity. Between feeling good about myself and true compassion.
And the second thing this story does, I think, is that it tells a truth about God.
God sees through all of that stuff in our lives and loves us anyway. God sees through our self–preservation, and our apathy and our weariness and our longing for what will build us up, often at the expense of those who need our help the most.
God sees through all of that stuff and loves us anyway, and calls us to a greater love, a greater generosity, a greater engagement with the life of the poor and the marginalized.
We call this story “the widow’s mite”. Maybe it’s really about the widow’s might — as in the widow’s power. She shows us a might greater than self–preservation. She shows us God’s might, God’s power — which is the power of love and loyalty. The power of giving and grace. The power of dependence and dedication.
Giving it our all?
I don’t think so.
But maybe … giving it a little more. Learning to see.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
November 11, 2018 (25th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 32)
Mark 12: 38–44
Ruth 3: 1–5; 4: 13–17
Hebrews 9: 24–28