Pentecost 24B, Sunday November 8, 2015. St Petri.
38 As he taught, Jesus said, “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 honour at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
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.
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.”
PRAYER: Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord that we may know you better. (Ephesians 1:17-18)
Jesus seems to have been very observant of people. He may have been like you and I when at the airport, in the mall or when eating out somewhere. Many of us find ourselves naturally being interested in observing people – little kids and parents, old friends, business meetings, family gatherings, a person alone……. It is funny how we all seem to do this. It is embarrassing when you are observing someone and they turn and look straight at you across the din of the café. You quickly look away desperately trying to discipline yourself to not look at them again… For a while anyway!
Jesus is very observant. On this particular day Jesus is in the city observing what’s going on. Of course, he himself is being observed by many. He is under the microscope – being watched closely both by those who have most to lose by his presence (Political/religious elite) and those who sense they have much to gain from him (everyday folks).
Most days everyone is privy to a verbal showdown between the “heavies” and this rabbi from the North. The people seem delighted that Jesus is doing well! Every time those who are trying to incriminate him by clever argument, like often happens on Q&A or other such current affairs programs, Jesus befuddles them. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” he says. “The stones the masons threw out is the cornerstone for the whole building”, and “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12). Jesus is becoming the small town hero who rises to fame in the big city.
TODAY’S OBJECT LESSON
As is often the case, Jesus uses what is actually going on in people’s lives to reveal who he is and therefore who God is and what God’s intent really is. The object lesson today come from his observation of people in the temple area giving their offering to God.
He observes the wealthy elite with their expensive RM Williams attire, or Vans and Chino’s, or Pastor’s robes giving what they would hardly even miss. He observes a woman who has lost her husband living on or below the poverty line giving what would she would surely miss….
Can we see that this Word of Jesus is not about people selling everything they have and giving it to the Lord in some way or the amount of money being given but about the state of the heart?
ALL ABOUT THE HEART
Here Jesus commends the person who gave extravagantly, giving “all she had left to live on”, not because of the amount she gave but because of the heart from which she gave. She trusted that everything about her and what she owned was God’s anyway. That is why she was free to give what she could live on. She trusted that God makes her live. She and all her possessions belonged to the Lord and that he would supply her needs. As a result she can give herself and her well-being and safety to the Lord in trust.
However, by giving what they would hardly even miss, the others gave to the Lord only a small part of their heart, if any. Giving as an outward show for others to see thus revealed a limited trust in the Lord’s provision for their life, present and future. As a result people have a lack of freedom to be generous toward the Lord and others.
GIVE WHAT’S MINE OR RETURN WHAT’S HIS?
So what is the result of a heart only partially, if at all, dependent on the Lord? What is the outcome for a person who carries a belief that everything I have is actually mine and not the Lord’s? I give what is “mine” to the Lord, rather than, I give back to the Lord what was his in the first place?
Jesus describes the result. The partially turned heart lacking belief that every breath I take, every move I make and thing I have is given by the Lord for the serving of his world makes us “gobble up” each other.
GOBBLING EACH OTHER UP
In this case, it is the wealthy who “devour” or “gobble up” the ‘have nots’ like this widow. She has lost her breadwinning husband in a community with little safety net. The financial gobbling is done by making her pay exorbitant taxes to pay for the building of this massive temple. It is done spiritually by loading her up with endless rules so that she is in a perpetual state of guilt and fear that God will judge her for not being good enough.
Why is devouring of the vulnerable going on? Because, as Jesus has already said, “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart”. If you are not willing to acknowledge that all good gifts are given in grace by the “the Father of lights”, as James names God (James 1:17), then you will find it very difficult to trust that he has you covered; that he will meet your needs for living out his calling on your life.
When you can’t or won’t trust that the Lord will keep you and provide for you in times of plenty and times of little, you will replace him and do it yourself, even if it means cutting a few corners in business, or stepping on a couple of “less important” people, or giving up the joy of living in the generosity of a God who promises to keep you more than the “birds of the air”, as Jesus promises (Matthew 6:26).
I hear the Lord calling me to be generous today. I hear him calling me to trust that despite my circumstances on any given week, financially or relationally, he will provide what he knows I need (which may different to what I want). I hear him reminding me that everything I am, all the people I love, everything I own and value, every part of my body, and in everything I experience; good and bad, easy and hard, he is involved; he “owns”, he gives, he calls, he loves me and you.
With that I am free to give generously in any circumstance. So in terms of handling money……I give money. The mission we are called to enact here takes money. I give a regular portion of my income to the work of my local Christian community – St Petri.
PLAN IT TO MAKE IT FIRST
It need to be planned. I know if I don’t plan it will not be my first fruits, it will be many leftovers, I would be dropping a two dollar coin into the offering bowl like the widow, not because it was all I could give but because I forgot to go to the ATM and give what the Lord is calling for. And the Lord is deserving of way more than my left-overs because he always gives me his best. I give electronically fortnightly so I don’t forget and even when I am not present, I am still giving to the work of the Lord in my home community.
With the trust of the elderly woman, we might loan people our things when they ask and not begrudge them if it comes back in a lesser condition.
We might share our money with another person in need as best as we can when needed.
We might support other organisations and people who are generously serving others in a good way, particularly those who do this for the gospel’s sake.
We might give of our heart and our time and our skills to contribute to the life of others and our local mission here at St Petri – and with a smile because “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”. We might remain more open to people and give people time and listen as best we can as a way of giving generously.
FREE TO BE GENEROUS
There is great freedom in acknowledging the Lord to be the owner of our stuff, our finances, our children, our cars, our sheds, and machinery, our school future, our career, our church buildings, our time and our bodies and minds.
He does not devour people, imperfect and self-orientated though we can be. He gives and gives and gives to us. He speaks his good words of grace one to another and here in his special presence. He forgives our lack of trust and calls us back to it. With the Lord, “tomorrow is another day” where his grace makes us new every morning and, as the 18th century poet, Alexander pope said, “hope springs eternal”.
HOPE CREATES GENEROSITY
As a result, we are one very generous community and we are open-hearted generous people where we live – not for our sake, but as St Paul says, “for the Lord’s praise and glory” (Ephesians 1:12).
We might end up with a motto like John Wesley, the great 18th century church leader…
“Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as you ever can”
Go to the temple – your home, your family, your school, your work place, your friends, your enemies, your future with sure trust in your heart that Jesus has your needs covered and that you can give and give like he gives to you.
Hope creates generosity.
PRAY: Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord that we may know you better.
Read the text deliberately and slowly leaving room to ponder what questions it raises and what imagination it fires in you.
The key word I saw was…
44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
I said Jesus is not telling us to sell everything we own and give it to St petri (or some other worthy cause), but it points to the gift of being reliant on the Lord’s provision which in turn creates generosity because of the hope we have as Christians.
She gave all she had rather than giving what she would hardly miss, thereby revealing a heart dependent and expectant on the Lord’s gracious care.
Share you views on this – agree/disagree, why/why not.
Share how generosity works in your life. Where does it come from and what do you struggle with in being generous to others.
I shared a quote: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”. How do you see this being true as you relate to others? Share your experience.
What is the Holy Spirit calling you to and what is he challenging you with as you ponder this Word from Jesus on the value of generosity? In what ways could you be more generous and in what areas do you find it hard to be generous. How does you practice of generosity stem from your heart and where you are at with the Lord?
Would John Wesley’s little phrase be something you would pass on to a friend or child or grandchild? Why/Why not?
Father in heaven, our generous God, make us signs of your generosity to all people as through us you do all the good you can by all the means you can in all the ways you can in all the places you can at all the times you can to all the people you can as long as you ever can in us”. In the name of Christ. Amen.