St. Giles’ Episcopal Church
November 11, 2018 – 25th Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
For some time Jesus and his disciples have been on the way to Jerusalem, which we know means on the way to the cross. Now they are in Jerusalem. It won’t be long before Jesus is arrested. We need to understand that for Jesus the end of his opportunity to teach and the end of his life are near. He looks at what is going on in the Temple, the holy place of sacrifice to God, with the clear, sharp vision of one who is about to complete his life of sacrificial, self-giving love on the cross. And he teaches his disciples important lessons about what he sees.
The first lesson is about a certain group of religious leaders, the men who make a show of prayer, who wear special clothing to announce their special status, who claim as their right respect in the world and the best seats in places of worship and at banquets. Jesus accuses these men of “devouring widows’ houses.” Though it is not certain exactly what this means, I think that the second part of today’s lesson sheds light on the meaning of the phrase. The religious leaders are “funded” to some extent by the sacrificial giving of people who have little but give generously. In the Bible we read that God has a special concern for widows because they have lost the husbands who provided for their needs. God’s people are meant to help provide what these women need, certainly not rob them of their resources. So, Jesus condemns the behavior of the religious leaders who should know God’s law better than others and yet disobey that law.
Jesus “sat down opposite the treasury” in the Temple. In other words, he sat where he could see people put their offerings in the “plate.” There were no discreet offering envelopes. There was no practice of the “church treasurer” being the only person who knew what people gave. Jesus watched as rich people put in large sums of money and a poor widow put in a very small amount of money. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
In practical terms, of course, the offerings of the rich people did much more than the widows’ penny to keep the Temple running. If there were a Budget and Stewardship Committee for the Temple, its members would have been very happy to see all those large sums deposited in the treasury! But Jesus challenges his disciples – and us – to see things from the vantage point of God, not the world.
Perhaps the fundamental issue that Jesus is pointing to in his reflections about giving to the Temple is the issue of commitment. How do the gifts of religious leaders and of the widow reflect their commitment to God? How do their gifts – and ours – express or fail to express loyalty to God and God’s way of self-giving love? How are their gifts – and ours – part of a plan of action to live day by day according to God’s way of self-giving love?
I would like to share with you a reflection I have had this week that relates, I think, to Jesus’ challenge to look at our behavior from the point of view of what it expresses about our commitment to God’s way of love. It all began when I was in a long line of traffic waiting to turn onto Route 1 to go to Wiscasset. At the head of the line of vehicles was a huge potato chip truck with immense pictures of bags of potato chips on its sides. My first thought was, “Mmm. I like potato chips.” If someone had offered me a potato chip right then, I would have gladly eaten it.
Then, as I sat and waited, I thought of what the world would be like if there were no potato chips. People wouldn’t be able to buy and eat this “food” that has no nutritional value and is, in fact, full of fats and salt which are bad for our health. The money spent on potato chips could be spent instead on healthy food. Potatoes used for potato chips could be eaten in nutritious forms that support good health. The air wouldn’t be polluted by trucks delivering potato chips to countless stores, and gasoline wouldn’t be wasted. Cardboard that needs to be manufactured and then recycled could be saved. Landfills wouldn’t be swollen with empty potato chip bags, and so on. No potato chip eater’s life would be truly diminished if there were no more potato chips.
This week I also received a mailing from Doctors Without Borders, a charitable organization supported almost entirely by private donors. This organization does wonderful work in healthcare throughout the world. If you aren’t familiar with it, I would encourage you to learn about their work. The appeal was for donations to combat malnutrition in children. This is some of what they wrote: “Malnutrition is the single greatest threat to the world’s public health, with a particularly devastating effect on young children. When conflicts erupt, natural disasters strike, or medical emergencies arise, young children are especially susceptible to becoming malnourished because they are cut off from the food and medical care necessary for healthy growth.” This card was enclosed in the mailing. It is about two and a half by five inches in size, the size of a ready-to-use therapeutic food package which “contains an energy-dense meal that delivers all the essential nutrients that severely malnourished children need to regain their strength and health.” $35 can provide enough of this therapeutic food to save the life of a child. Or it can buy ten bags of potato chips.
Contemporary writers in the areas of psychology and spirituality point out that when we identify our core values and then construct our lives so that we live in accordance with our values, we are more likely to experience our lives as meaningful and to find happiness than if we don’t live in accordance with our values. Here in church we are reminded of Christian values. Loving God. Loving our neighbors as ourselves. Sharing the blessings God has given us with others in gratitude for God’s blessings. We are challenged to examine our lives honestly and to bring our behavior in closer alignment with our Christian values.
I ask myself if there is anything in scripture, especially in the teaching of Jesus, that suggests to me that it is a better choice to buy and eat ten bags of potato chips than to save the life of a child. Certainly not! So, the challenge of my potato chip reflections is for us to look at our habits of spending, see whether they are shaped by the world and the world of advertising or by God. And if not by God, then can we change our habits so that they are more in line with our values? If we can change our habits, I am convinced that the world will be a better place for all of God’s beloved children and our lives will be more meaningful.
Jesus praised the widow for giving all she had as part of her commitment to God. In contrast, the religious leaders had it all wrong. They gave only out of their abundance. They sacrificed nothing significant in order to put large sums into the Temple treasury. This short lesson is very challenging, a “post-graduate level” lesson for most of us. It will be difficult enough for us to look in our weekly shopping carts, take out the potato chips – or whatever unnecessary and possibly unhealthy items we usually have there – and put that money aside to provide help for people in need, won’t it? But that may be one step each of us can take to walk in love. Through Jesus God calls us to see and know and experience that the way of love is the way of eternal life. Can we trust God enough to live in love, today?
In Jesus’ name. Amen.