Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Giving From Abundance and Poverty

This week's scriptures are 1 Kings 17:8-16 and Mark 12:38-44.

In the great list of "most misused scriptures" our passage from Mark will have to go high on the list. Think of all the stewardship sermons you've heard that hold up the widow in this story, dropping her last two coins-all that she had-into the temple offering before moving silently along her way. "Be more like her" we were told; "This is the kind of giving God really likes."

Well yes; and no.

In most of this passage Jesus is condemning the religious leaders who push and shove for social status; who put themselves in positions to control the funds of the widow (a widow could not handle her own estate in that day and time, getting ones self appointed as executor was often a lucrative affair); and who were blind to the needs around them. Then, as if to make His point even further, Jesus points out this widow, dropping in the last money she has under the blind eye of the church leaders. I've been intrigued this week as I prepare for Sunday's sermon by the words of Sarah Dylan Breuer who asked if we could find one single indication that Jesus thought it was wonderful that this woman was giving the temple her last penny and going off destitute. It's an interesting question.

The story raises the question for me of what the scribes and company (and you and I) don't see. The church leaders are there in all their glory. Their money makes a huge noise as it is dropped into the temple coffer. They give out of their plenty, expecting to gain more; more money, more prestige, more status. Nobody noticed this woman. She is truly a nobody. She will slide silently into the temple, give her last cent, and then leave. Nobody stops her to ask how she's doing. Nobody invites her to their home for dinner. Nobody even smiles at her as she passes by. They're too busy and she's too unimportant. One doesn't have to look real far to be reminded of televangelists begging for donations...or church building committees sending out letters asking for help with the new church wing. I can, unfortunately, put myself all too easily in the scribes position of blindness to the needs of folks who are giving hugely and quietly and then go on about their business without really being noticed. If we stretch this image just a little bit to include more than money (time volunteered, etc) and the poverty ignored to include more than food (ongoing grief, loneliness, etc) the level of judgement in this story rises even higher.

What will she do now? Where will this destitute, penniless widow go? Where will she sleep, eat her next meal? Perhaps she will starve. That's not an image that we like to think of...but it is one the story raises.

The widow in our passage from 1 Kings is preparing to do just that. Her plans are to make one last meal for she and her son, and then to die. This isn't poetic language. There is a famine in the land. Elijah (and this is important) is suffering from the same famine. He's hiding out in the wilderness form Ahab the king who has sworn to kill him for speaking a prophetic word. The ravens have quit feeding him and the stream he'd been drinking from has dried up. He comes to this widow in his own poverty; as one starving person to another. He asks for her help in trust that his God will care for all three of them....Elijah, the widow, and her son.

Both of these widows can be described in Marks words as "giving out of their poverty." Their gift comes out of the very place where they are most needy, most vulnerable. It is here that they become a model for our giving. Do I give to God out of the place where giving is the greatest risk? The place where I really have to wonder if opening up will be the last thing I ever do? No, I'm much more like the scribes...or worse.

What happens if I let these two scriptures both judge me and guide me? What if they call me to examine my priorities of self protectiveness and social status and to look at taking the risk of offering to God the very places where I am most hungry, poor, and wounded?

Truly risky business. Let's look at it together on Sunday.


1 comment:

Jeremy said...

This certainly addresses a real problem - which is one of the things I love - but can really but the weight on us to act it out. My family has been having discussions of late that really make me think - can we afford to give financially in the coming year? Do we give and just trust that jobs will continue and/or be found? That we can make a thousand adjustments and "be lucky" enough for things to work out? How do we balance socially-valued fiscal responsibility with (what looks like) the irresponsibility of giving all you have? Or even giving what you probably shouldn't (budget-wise)?

It makes a big difference when the situation stops being hypothetical and (anthropomorphically-speaking) stares you in the face. Or knee-caps you.