This is a wonderful story about humility and sacrificial giving and to a lesser degree arrogance and giving for show. It also gives us some insight into the character of Jesus. He really saw people, not only the people who walked about in long robes so they could be respected for their wealth and their long prayers, but also the widow who quietly gave all she had.
I like this about Jesus because I identify with him in this way. If I’m not too self-absorbed, I notice people. In fact, I like to do just what Jesus did; sit down somewhere with a good view of people just being themselves. It is why I enjoy Walt Whitman’s poem, I Sing the Body Electric. Like Mr. Whitman, I think people are beautiful. But, I am often a terrible judge of peoples’ characters. And, what we observe in this Gospel story is that Jesus was good at discerning whether people had good intentions or not. I try to approach people with the idea that everyone has good intentions. It’s my way of trusting those I don’t know and being open to someone who might be different from me.
This nature of Jesus to notice people in his society who were invisible was on my mind when I read a story on Facebook the other day. It was posted by one of my high school classmates sharing a personal story his cousin told him. My cousin Ryan had a very interesting experience in downtown Indy, before heading to his job at the Indianapolis Zoo. Ryan's a good guy and I'm very proud to know him. With his permission, I repost. Please feel free to comment.
A question for my god-fearing friends -
I decided it was a nice day to ride my bike around downtown before work today. I stop at Starbucks, because I can, and as I'm walking to the door a man stops me. He looks ragged, smells a little funky, and in my eyes is obviously homeless. He asks if I will take his cup inside and fill it with water because they won't let him in. I told him I'd just buy a bottle for him and a coffee too. After I came out and handed him his drinks I asked if he'd like something to eat. He said I didn't have to but I felt like I should help the guy out. We walked to Subway and sat and ate a sandwich. Strangely this guy was really intelligent. We talked world issues, hunger, war, social morality, obligation of government. Some of the best conversation I've had. As we started to go our separate ways I offered him my shoes because his were trashed. He accepted and said he could only offer advice in return. Quoted as best I can recall, "Ryan, you have a good heart and open mind so I'm sure you'll be fine. Prepare, for the world [as] you know it to change completely." I asked jokingly if he was talking about alien invasion, zombies, world war 3, or the return of Jesus. He replied -"I've already returned. I'm just waiting for the right time to reveal myself." Then he shook my hand and walked away.
Leave it to faith, or just believe that I had lunch with a crazy homeless man that believes in the inevitable?
I’m wondering if Ryan went on his way shoeless or if he had other shoes with him as many people who ride bikes will do. Also, Ryan commented on the post by saying that he no longer had the zoo job-unfortunately. But, he has a job and he can still afford to go to Starbucks so maybe he is okay. Whatever the deal, I admire his generosity of time and treasure.
So, the man had something to eat and drink for that day and that was a good thing. Now he has a decent pair of shoes to wear for the winter. But, the real gift that Ryan gave was that for a period of time, this man was not invisible. Not only was he not invisible but Ryan listened to him and treated him as an equal. They had a sort of communion there at the small table in the Subway.
The widow’s mite wouldn’t have done much in the temple treasury but it was all she had and she gave it. A sandwich, a cup of coffee and a bottle of water and a pair of used shoes aren’t really that valuable either, no matter how much Starbucks charges for their drinks. But, for this man, for that day they would have been priceless.
When I was a child, my parents would give me a quarter to put in the offering plate every Sunday. I had no problem doing that. I had no skin in the game. When I went with them, I put in the quarter. When they stopped going and I went with my sister, we each put in a quarter. When I went by myself, I put in that quarter. Then I went to a class with some of my friends because we had all decided to be baptized. Mind you, I had been baptized once as an infant in the Methodist Church but, this local congregation of the Disciples of Christ had Anabaptist leanings and the idea of baptizing an infant was well, weird to them. So, as much as I tried to explain that infant baptism was well, okay-they weren’t buying that. So, I took a class and was baptized by immersion. Bonnie is covered in the baptism department. In this class, the minister talked about tithing. I was very interested at age 12 in doing all I could for God so I bumped up my giving. Well, from zero out of my pocket to a bit more than 10% of my allowance. I think at the time I was receiving $2 a week so I started putting my own quarter into the offering plate along with my parents’ quarter. I was very faithful about it.
By the time I graduated from high school, I had my allowance plus pay for doing the cleaning and laundry at our house-a total of $9 a week and I was giving $1 to the church each week. I looked it up-I have my ledger from Sept., 1968 to April 10, 1972, which was five days before Jim and I got married.
So, I was a tither when Jim and I married. Money was tight for us and we often worked on Sundays so we could survive while we were at school so we rarely went to church those 2+ years. Jim wasn’t familiar with tithing and thought it wasn’t necessary when we started attending Church of the Resurrection in Bellevue. So, we gave money to the church but didn’t tithe.
Then Jim encountered a friend at Boeing who talked about tithing. Funds were tight for them, too, but they tithed to their church. They said they always had what they needed. So, Jim decided tithing was a good thing. By then we were attending St. John’s in Kirkland so each year we would double our pledge until we finally were tithing. The last year was the big leap. We found as we gave up more money to the church we always had what we needed-maybe not what everyone else had but what our family needed.
For next year, we will increase our pledge since Jim has gone back to work and we will keep it at a higher level until he is able to retire again. We will also be giving more over the year to charities we like to support: Beyond Survival, Camp Victory, Episcopal Relief and Development, Purdue University, Purdue Christian Campus House (where we were married), the high school backpack program-well, you get the idea.
I don’t tell you this so I can be honored-I’m just a pastor telling it like it is. I would like all of us to look at what we give to the church in time, talent, and treasure and determine if the level of giving is sacrificial or not. Do we make sacrifices to give in all these areas? I think of Ryan, the widow and the rich men Jesus observed, the funky smelling man who also gave of his time to Ryan, and Ruth who gave up the rest of her young life in devotion to Naomi and I see in all of them people who were willing to give to God some of what God had provided for them. Jim and I give out of abundance though it doesn’t always feel like it. I’m not looking at what the church needs, I’m looking at what God has given me and I feel a deep need to give to the church. That Disciples pastor taught me very well.