St. John's, Centreville
November 11, 2018
Proper 27 B
Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them; take our hearts and set them on fire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Abundance. Poverty. Status seeking. Humility. These are the themes of our gospel lesson this morning. Jesus is in Jerusalem during the final week before his passion. He is continuing to teach his disciples till the bitter end.
First he admonishes the disciples not to be taken in by the fancy robes and accessories worn by the scribes, as they sit in places of honor at social and official functions. Just because they are treated with honor and respect does not mean they are worthy of it. They may say long prayers to impress others, but yet they take the houses of widows, probably like foreclosure. He is teaching his disciples not to be swayed by a person's outward appearances, or the status given to them by others. Look, instead, on how they treat others who are in need - the poor, the widows and the orphans. How people treat the less fortunate is how they will be judged, not by their outward appearances or success.
Jesus and his disciples then sit near the treasury box in the portico of the temple where they can watch as the people put their money into the large metal jar. One could hear the coins clattering against the metal and you could know how much or how little that person was contributing to the treasury for the financial support of the temple. Many rich people passed by and contributed out of their abundance. What they gave would have little impact on their lifestyle. But then comes along a poor widow. Into the metal jar she drops in two small copper coins, worth about a penny, the money that she would have used to live on. She gave all she had. She would feel the impact of donating that money to the temple. Perhaps she would not eat for a day or two. Perhaps she would have to postpone paying her rent. Her giving was sacrificial. Her donation in terms of money was small and insignificant. But her sacrifice to God was immeasurable.
Jesus talks to the disciples about sacrificial giving, as he is sitting with them in Jerusalem, just days before he sacrifices his own life for the salvation of all. The poor widow is an example of what it means to give everything you have to the glory of God, even your own life.
We can imagine that the poor widow is a humble woman. She certainly was not invited to sit in the seats of honor at social events or wear fine robes. She had no money, therefore she had no power, therefore she was invisible to the scribes and others in authority.
It sounds like the same dichotomy that we have today - the haves and the have nots. And the gap between rich and poor, at least in this country, is getting wider. Why is it that we listen to what the rich and famous have to say, but not those who are poor? Probably because we think that those who are rich and famous must be smarter and wiser than the rest of us. But that is not the case. And deep down, we know that is not the case.
But that is what our culture tells us. If you are poor, you have nothing to offer. If you live in public housing or are on food stamps or welfare or disability or are homeless, then you can't possibly have anything to offer society, anything helpful to say. You are invisible. If you are rich, you must be smart. You wear nice clothes, live in a nice house, drive the latest model car, so you must have it all together. Look at the kind of following that the Kardashians have. It's ridiculous! Just because they have money and a recognizable name, they are featured on TV and followed on Facebook. Look at the number of people who run for public office because they have name recognition, though not necessarily the abilities to perform the job well. I think we have too many politicians who have sought public office for their own recognition, and status, and do not have the unique gifts and abilities and care to offer their constituents.
Jesus advises his disciples to look at people's motivations. Are the rich giving to the temple so they can be seen and applauded by others? Are they doing it for themselves or because they truly want to help those in need? People's motivations are not always easy to determine. It is clear that the poor widow has the proper motivation. She could easily have keep her little bit of money for her own expenses. But it was important for her to give - give to the temple, give back to God in gratitude.
What are our motivations when we give to the church, or a charity, or to someone in need? Is it for public recognition and status? Or is giving between you and God, something personal, something private? Hopefully, we give not only to help others but to change ourselves, to be more giving. We give to the church out of gratitude for all that God has given to us, and to further the ministry of the church. Sometimes, if we are going through a hard time, we might have to work harder on being grateful. The fact that we woke up this morning, that we had a bed to sleep in and food to eat when we got up, that the tree is the back yard is a bright yellow or flaming red, that last night's sunset was spectacular. For all these things, and others, we are grateful to God - for life itself, for God's Son Jesus Christ who came to show us the way and died for us, for family and friends - we are incredibly blessed and we should be grateful.
God wants us to be the people that God created us to be - in the image of God. God wants us to give sacrificially just as the poor widow did - to give of ourselves in service to God. Giving of ourselves is freeing. It is liberating. We realize that money and possessions don't own us or control us. We use what we have for the furthering of God's kingdom.
I leave you with this story published in the New York Times by Patricia Cohen on April 13, 2015. Dan Price, the founder of Gravity Payments, read an article on happiness. It showed that, for people making less than $70,000 per year, extra money can make a big difference in their lives. After some thought, Mr. Price announced that over the next three years, the salary of every one of his 120 person staff would be raised to $70,000. He would cut his salary of over $1 million dollars to $70,000. The US has one of the highest pay gaps with chief executives earning about 300 times more than the average worker. Mr. Price wanted to do something to address the issue of inequality and he wanted to do it without raising his prices or cutting back on services.
The research on happiness came from a Nobel winning psychologist who said that one's emotional well being rises with income, but only to a point, which was about $75,000 per year. More than that does not buy happiness, though additional pleasures are nice, but a lack of money to meet your needs can deprive you of it.
More money and possessions don't make us happier. When we give of ourselves to help others, when we realize that our dependence is on God alone, when we give out of gratitude, then we can feel fulfilled. Amen.