Mercy Not Sacrifice
This is the time of year when most parishes begin their stewardship campaigns to fund the coming year’s ministry and programs. In my parish the campaign began on All Saints Sunday when everyone renewed their baptismal vows. Stewardship, or the biblical term tithing, flows out of a person’s commitment to Christ, the Church, and serving other human beings, especially those most in need. It is part of basic spiritual health to be a good steward of everything God has given us: our health, our time, and our treasure.
Churches need significant amount of money to operate and fund their programing each year. Since there are no “membership” fees, everything depends on free will giving by people, all of whom are at various stages in understanding what their commitment to Christ and their neighbor entails. My last parish needed approximately $7500 a week to fulfill its mission and pay its bills.
Fortunately, the scripture readings in November each year helped the preaching and teaching task during the stewardship season. The culmination of our pledge campaign each year was on the last Sunday of church year, the Feast of Christ the King. Everyone was encouraged to make their commitment for the coming year and “lay it before Christ” on that great feast.
The readings for this Sunday are about the nature of sacrificial giving (readings from 1 Kings and the Letter to the Hebrews) and the Gospel underlines this with today’s story of the Widow’s mite, the poor widow who gave “everything she had to live on.” These readings, if understood correctly, can be great stewardship readings.
Jesus is standing with his disciples at the entrance to the Temple in Jerusalem. Standing by are some Temple leaders as well, watching people as they enter the Temple and pay the required Temple tax. Of course, the people who were wealthy put in large amounts they budgeted for, probably amounts that wouldn’t affect their life style much, while the poor put in smaller amounts. Along comes a poor widow who pays her “tax” with two small coins, “everything she had to live on.” Jesus, in teaching mode, points out that the richer folk gave out of their abundance (often to be seen as generous by others) while the widow gave everything she had.
What a great stewardship story! Let’s give everything we have to God- like the widow! A great sermon message during the stewardship campaign! NOT!
For Jesus, the poor widow putting “everything she had to live on” was a damn shame. Comfortable Scribes and other temple leaders fostered a system that crushed the poor. They allowed and fostered “the devouring of widow’s houses.” The widow is not an example of wonderful stewardship, but of the way “religious” people victimize the poor. This is happening today, for example with all the talk about the “Caravan.” The caravan folks are scapegoats for our protectionism and greed.
The poor widow and likewise, the widow in the Elijah story in the book of Kings, are victims of famine and war. We all know that more widows are being created every day and required to give everything they have to live on just to survive. These widows are true prophets in our midst, pointing out what’s seriously wrong with the world. Elijah murdered the 600 prophets of Ba’al because they offered pagan sacrifices to idols and lost the challenge of fire. This bloody experience changed his thinking (repentance) so much that he was able, after his “great” victory, to join this humble widow preparing to fix one last meal for her son with the last bit of food she had. Elijah, asks her to make a meal for him first, and then for herself and son. Elijah tells her that she and her family will never run out of food and drink for her sacrifice.
What is the meaning of these stories for us? They’re about repentance, the changing of our thinking. Jesus never requires the sacrifice of “others,” like the widow, but rather the sacrifice of ourselves. It’s never “let others do it,” but what can you or I do to help others, especially the poor in our midst, be secure in their life situations and have opportunities for betterment. This I believe what Jesus, the Victim of all victims, wants to happen: the end of requiring others to be sacrificed for our ends, and instead, our own free sacrificial giving on behalf of others. Jesus, our Lord, gave us this example: sacrifice yourselves, not others. Show mercy.
This Sunday often falls on Veteran’s day when we remember the sacrifice of many for our country’s freedom. We honor them with remembrance and prayer today. Jesus’ own sacrifice goes a step further than even the ultimate sacrifice many Veterans paid. Jesus died on the Cross, not only for the freedom of his own people, but also for his enemies, his mockers, and the apathetic who could even care less.
All this in mind, the few moments we spend around the altar of God for the Eucharist gives us time to deepen our repentance and grow in mercy. In return, we, like the widows, receive the Bread for Life that lasts forever.
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.