25th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27, Year B)
O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
As Jesus taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “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.”
Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study Group (De’Nae, Paul, Eugene, Taj, John, William, George, Jonathan and Theresa)
The small group bible studies that we hold each month as part of Faith from the Margins to the Web have become very popular events. This particular week, the parlor where we regularly meet was filled to capacity with people. De’Nae, a student at the local university and I conferred quickly and decided to amend the usual format in order to try to allow for as much participation among group members as possible. After reading the Gospel, we asked everyone to think about and begin the study by sharing their response to one question: “Do you think the widow that Jesus points out is a victim, or a hero?”
We begin this week’s study right there; the answers came fast and furious:
“I’d say hero” said William.
“She gave from her heart” added Taj.
Jonathan was thoughtful: “All the rest, they gave because they have a lot. I mean, you can give like a thousand dollars or something. But if you ain’t giving from your heart, then you’re just giving it selfishly so you think you’ll get something back.”
Eugene chimed in, “She didn’t have that much, but she gave in a different place than those that had more to give.”
“She gave ALL that she had” said Paul. “Listen, a guy with a million dollars might have given more, even if it was 10%. But she gave 100% even though she was poor.”
“Especially, think about it, that’s what you’re supposed to do” said John. “Jesus says what we are supposed to do: to give from our HEARTS. The amount isn’t what is important; the heart and the trust, that is what is important.”
“So, everyone says hero?” asked De’Nae
“Let me say something about that,” said George “because I think some people will give what they can, and that kind of giving is from that heart. But some people might be told to give all that they have, because they are threatened. Somewhere in there is a place where we give all of what we have, because we realize it belongs to God.”
“People may hesitate to give, or might become concerned about what resources they have tomorrow” said Theresa. “This lady, imagine it was someone today, she would get her paycheck and have to cash it and put all of that into the temple. Let’s be real: we would not do that. I wouldn’t do that. Who can do that? But she did that!”
The group began to open into seeing something deeper in the story. Nods and interjections of agreement began to resonate around the room. De’Nae, an undergraduate student who was the newest and youngest member of the group decided to share from her heart:
“I was pretty much raised on giving” said De’Nae. “You see, I was adopted. I had been through a lot, through foster care and all of that. But, when I got adopted, I got adopted to a Christian family. My adopted father is a pastor, and one thing that my parents have always done is give. Because my parents have a bigger house, people always think, “oh they got it” but that’s not the whole story. My Mama, she has always put giving first. She has like 10 Godchildren that she supports, and they have five children of their own. They adopted three of us, and they birthed two of their own. They are still putting us through college and loving us, and giving us a chance. I mean, I’m in school right now and there’s one of my brothers still in high school. They wanted to give, they made a choice and they always have what they need. But there were times we didn’t know if we were going to make it. I know that one of the babies got sick one time; my Mom had to quit her job and take care of her, and there were all these medical bills. My Mom was tired and stressed and thought, “I don’t know if I can do this.” But she prayed, and what came to her is “You have love you can give.” And so she thought: ‘yeah, maybe I do have something I can give.’ Even when she didn’t know if she could give, she gave. And now, that is what they have always taught me: give back. It isn’t about earning it back or making up for something, or being told that you have to give. You give, because when you empty yourself you can receive love. That’s why I’m in the service learning program in college. I was nine when they adopted me. I was a foster kid, just with them temporarily. They could have said, “you’re too old” but they didn’t. They didn’t hardly know me but they loved me and they trusted God, and because of that I got a family. We might not get along all the time; there might be stress; there might be tight times we can’t even stand each other. But there was ALWAYS love. My Mama always had that to give and I got that gift from her. So, I can’t imagine what else I would do but give.”
The room was filled with loving responses back to De’Nae: “A room, love, food, conversation: it’s amazing how much we need that. It’s so simple, but people don’t always feel they can even give that. They can” said Theresa, “Your Mama, she proved that.”
“It’s like a little kid” said Paul. “Sometimes, what they recognize is love. Kids need that from their parents, from the grown-ups in their lives. Love means they are looked out for, they are safe, they are cared for. It isn’t because you feel sorry for someone; it’s that you LOVE them and you want what is best for them when you have love in your heart. Love isn’t about the color of the skin, or the age of person, or even whether you like someone all the time. Love is LOVE.”
“Love will get you so far in life. It will get you so much farther than money or finances or all that. My foster parents showed me so much love, that recently I was able to reconnect with my birth parents with their help. I didn’t do that because I needed something from them. I did that because I had a chance to love them, too. I learned that they had made mistakes, but they still had love. And now, we all have more love, all of us.” said De’Nae.
“You know, there is a lot of trickery that has been going on in this world” said John. “I mean those of us, a lot of us here who are black people, we built this world off the sweat of our labor after we were brought here against our wills. That’s the story of our people. There could be so much darkness…so much darkness. What the white people did to the slaves was not love: it was separating families, mothers and fathers from children. And I just can’t believe that under Trump, this country is doing the same thing now…maybe with a different nationality…but it’s the same thing. Separating parents and children from each other, it’s just wrong. But even with all that darkness, you can’t stop love. You feel what I’m saying?? God is saying, if you walk this path, everything isn’t going to be peaches and cream. To get where we are going, you got to go through a lot. A WHOLE LOT. You might be told to give everything you have. It’s like you have to trust that God knows where you are going. If God loves us, God knows that place.”
Eugene spoke quietly and deliberately: “The thing is that, God does love us. And by God doing what God did, by Jesus being who he was, we receive that love. And if that love holds us, there is nothing in this world that we need to fear. If we see ourselves as part of that Godly purpose, it changes how we see ourselves and what we think about what our possessions are on this earth.”
“You know, at the end of the day, I think maybe she isn’t a hero or a victim” said Theresa. “I think she looked at those two coins and she looked up at God and she thought, ‘if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even have this. You made me, and what I have is yours. So go ahead, have this: here it is. I want you to accept this, just like I accept what you give me.”
“I want to say something before we close” said John. “I’m learning from this, I’m learning. When I come here, to this bible study it is like I am letting everything out. This is better than therapy and when I do this, my life has been filled. When I go what I go through and I come and I talk: nothing else bothers me. It’s like God has set his hand on me. I used to worry that God would ever forgive me. And here, I come here and it is like God fills me and I know that I have a place. I came here when I had nothing and God met me, and I continue to be filled.”
This, my friends, is what the gift of love truly is.
*On a personal note, I am preparing for my ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons this Saturday, November 10. In The Episcopal Church all who are to be ordained as priests first (and always) serve as deacons. I will be spending the next chapter of my journey serving as deacon and Missioner to Monroe Park, walking beside those we serve at feeding programs and food pantries and on the streets and parks around Richmond. I live in deep anticipation of the way this ministry will change me. When we recorded this interview, I helped the group get started but was called away several times as the group conversed about this scripture together. I didn’t get to hear the whole recording until tonight. As I transcribed this group recording, it was as if I was given a profound gift. I can not imagine a more appropriate message to have received this week than that which I have been given here in this interview, and which I hold as my own prayer this ordination week:
She looked up at God and she thought, ‘if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even have this. You made me, and what I have is yours. So go ahead, have this: here it is. I want you to accept this, just like I accept what you give me.’