The Perfect Gift
Our Gospel reading for this morning is sweet, at least the part about the poor widow.
Jesus sees this woman just two days after he triumphantly entered Jerusalem, to the extreme irritation of the religious leadership in the city. The next day, the day before our passage, Jesus drove money changers from the temple. More controversy. For most of this day, Pharisees and Herodians and Sadducees and scribes have been arguing with Jesus. It’s been an intense and angry three days. And it’s just going to get worse. Jesus will be crucified later that week.
But in our reading, Jesus and his disciples take a break for a few minutes. They sit down not far from the entrance to the temple and watch the people go by. I’m guessing they were worn out and in poor spirits.
That’s when Jesus sees rich people contributing large sums to the temple.
Jesus is not impressed, but I don’t think he is criticizing the rich people here. After all, running the temple cost a LOT. Their Junior Warden and Treasurer needed some people to write big checks. Jesus knew that.
I am particularly aware of the Temple’s financial needs because we begin our own stewardship campaign this week, and we, too, need contributions to do what we do. If any of you know rich people inclined to donate large sums, please send them my way!
But Jesus—this is the point of the whole story—is much more impressed with the poor widow than with the rich people. Particularly as we begin our stewardship campaign, we need to pay attention here.
Jesus is teaching his disciples, and reminding us, that God is not limited by what we might think of as ordinary economics. God doesn’t need a lot to work with. God can do great things with a couple of small copper coins worth a penny.
This shouldn’t be news to the disciples or to us. Jesus says the same thing in different ways over and over again throughout the Gospels.
My favorite story on this point is the time Jesus asked his horrified disciples to feed a crowd of something like 5000 people that has followed them around the Sea of Galilee and part way up a mountain. Philip protests that they can’t do it, that it would take six month’s wages to pay for the food. They don’t have that kind of money.
But a boy offers Jesus his lunch: five barley loaves and a couple of small fish. Jesus blesses the meal and starts passing out food. Everyone eats, and twelve baskets of food are left over (John 6:1-13). If God can do that, think what God can do with a few coins!
It takes money to run institutions, including the Church. But the real engine for us, as God’s people, is God, is the Holy Spirit which swirls around us, and courses through us, and makes anything possible. Our story reminds us of that most fundamental fact about Church life.
But Jesus is saying more than that God can do a lot with a little. Jesus praises this widow for her faithful generosity. What about her offering is so good?
Mark doesn’t tell us exactly what motivates this woman. But we can make some pretty good guesses. Hers is a free will offering, more like the United Thank Offering than a tax or even a pledge.
Her offering surely comes from a grateful and generous heart. She doesn’t have much; that is clear. Life was hard for poor peasant widows in the first century.
But there are almost always blessings, even if we have to search for them sometimes. We don’t know what this woman’s particular blessings were. But whatever they were, she doesn’t take them for granted. This woman is grateful for what she does have. And so she gives her two coins as a thank offering, as a gift of thanks and praise to the God from whom all blessings flow.
Today we do the same with our own thank offerings, whatever form they take.
But we can dig deeper. What Jesus specifically praises about this woman is that she “has put in everything she had, all that she had to live on.”
When we prayed through this passage in contemplative prayer, some of us were a little uncomfortable about that. We worried what would happen to this woman. Would she be able to meet her basic needs?
I’d like to think that Jesus took care of her.
But as I have continued to sit with this passage, I have become convinced that Jesus meant something slightly different than that this woman donated all of her money. I think Jesus meant not that she gave all she had so much as that she gave all she was. Her contribution represented her life, all of which she consecrated to God.
As this poor widow made her gift, as she offered herself with this gift, she was anticipating the sacrifice that Christ himself was going to make on the cross just a few days later, the gift of His life.
In his stewardship message in the Dovetale, our wonderful stewardship chair Ted Zern began by reminding us that we have all received gifts from God: gifts of talent and time as well as treasure. We should be thankful for those gifts.
But, Ted went on to say, beyond those gifts that are particular to each of us, “God sent His own beloved Son as the author of our salvation. What a prefect gift that was and continues to be.” God’s greatest gift to us, God’s perfect gift, the gift behind every other gift, is the gift of His Son, the gift of Himself.
In return, like this woman, we offer to God what we can. We offer our thanks and praise. We offer our particular gifts of time, talent, and treasure.
But behind those gifts, we, following the example of Christ, following the example of the poor widow in our story, we, too, are called to offer ourselves, our own most perfect gift.
Before the pandemic, ushers would pass the collection plate as part of our service, and then bring the offerings of the congregation forward to be blessed during the Great Thanksgiving. The point was not to bless the money because we like money. The point was to bless the money as a symbolic offering of our lives, of ourselves. It’s a blessing of us.
We’re not passing the plate these days. But we’re going back to bringing the collection forward and leaving it on the altar during Holy Eucharist as that symbolic offering of our lives and ourselves.
If you contribute some other way than putting money in the plate, I invite you to put in one of these cards to represent your gift. And, of course, your gift doesn’t have to be money. It could be a contribution of time, something as simple as a commitment to pray for our ministries.
Particularly over this month, this Thanksgiving month, I also invite you to put in notes, things for which you are grateful or things you would like to offer up to God as part of our worship. It may not matter in the grand scheme of things, but I am glad the Braves won the World Series. I can offer that bit of joy to God.
Our offerings may be small. But if we make our offerings from a grateful heart, if by our specific offerings we mean to offer up ourselves, we will hear Jesus praising our gift, just as Jesus praises the poor widow’s.
May it be so.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
11/12/2021 07:06:59 pm
I have been reading your sermons, but not commenting as much as I used to in the past. This is not because they lack meaning for me. Rather it is because they say so beautifully what needs to be said to us as Christians. This sermon particularly touched me because I have reached a point in my life where it is easier to give money instead of my time or my talents. I have never been happy with just giving money as it seems impersonal. Thank you for this reminder that I have more to share.
Leave a Reply.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan