20 August 2016

The Poor Widow's Offering: Generous

Mark 12:41-44

Generous God,
you have given me
all that I need -
not very much,
but it is enough.
Open my eyes
to see all you've provided -
more than possessions,
a wealth more than wealth.
I want to give thanks
for the riches you've given:
the breath in my body,
enough food to eat,
my beautiful children,
the knowledge of You.

Mysterious God,
it is true
my cup was not always sweet,
and much bitterness
has stained my years.
And I've cried and complained,
not understood your ways -
except this: you are love
and you understand my pain.
I have swallowed the dregs
of loss and poverty,
of loneliness
and a mother's worry.
Daily I struggle,
yet stubbornly believe,
though you lead me rocky ways,
that you care for me.

Bountiful God,
all I have is yours -
that's so easy to say,
yet so hard to do.
Give me the peace
to share generously -
just like You.
Let me live out the love
you have given to me,
with no fear of tomorrow,
with no fear of suffering.
Let me open my hand
knowing that yours
is always open to me.
You have covered my needs -
how can I not seek
to cover those
of others I meet?

Loving God,
I know my gift is small,
disappearingly small
beside the greater gifts
greater people can bring.
It shames me
as they give me looks
as though I were stingy,
whisper of "impertinence"
or say, "The more you give
the more you shall receive."
You see my gift,
worthless in their eyes -
worthy in yours,
for you see my heart
and what this means to me.
So here I bring
though to them it's nothing,
and I won't be ashamed,
for it's not their approval I seek.

Take my silver and my gold,
not a mite would I withhold -
and if I have no silver nor gold,
take my mite - take them both.


[20. August 2016]

Italicised bit at the end is from Frances Ridley Havergal's hymn "Take my life and let it be" (an old favourite of mine).
Parts of this poem were inspired directly by yesterday's "3 minute retreat" from Loyola Press - highly recommended; it's an app too, try it out (Apple / Android)!

A widow gives two small coins as an offering in the temple (the temple offering would probably have been for supporting the Levites / priests working there - they had no land to farm so were dependent upon tithes etc - and upkeep of the temple). Others give a lot more. Jesus, who is watching, says that the widow in fact gave more than those who brought big gifts, because she gave all she had while the wealthy gave just a portion. I believe she is a perfect example of what Jesus taught about giving in Mt 6. She received no admiration for her gift - and yet it was a big move for her (and God saw it).

There's a lot of (false) preachers pushing for congregations to give money. A huge deal is made out of tithing - often with the tagline "give and you will receive". Giving is good - that "tagline" is dangerous. Because if you give in order to get back, you are in fact acting like an idol-worshipper. A principle I have watched often when I grew up in Taiwan was "give and get back". In traditional religion, you give sacrifices so that the god will give his services to you. It's basically a "business contract". I believe this is the "natural" human way of living religion. But Jesus has taught us a new way. Which means giving is no longer part of a "business contract" with God, where God is "indebted" to give us something back, and where God's blessing is in proportion to the size of our gifts. We are in a relationship with God, welcomed to freely give out of love, not because we "must" and not because we "get something" out of it.

And that's how I view this widow's actions here. She gave out of the generosity of her heart (and possibly out of the experience of God's generosity despite her hardships), gave what she had (trusting in God's provision), and was brave enough to give what must have looked pretty measly to onlookers. Generosity is not giving with the hope of getting something back... it's also not something only possible if you have a lot to give. Generosity (not only when it comes to money, but also e.g. in treatment of others, giving time, giving kindness) takes courage - the trust that we are not going to "lose out" by giving to others.

I have discussions with my boyfriend about tithing sometimes (because he doesn't really believe in it, or the way some people do it). If we're tithing because "it's what one does", or because we "ought to", or because we think we'll "get something back", then I believe we are not tithing in the right way. The size of our gifts doesn't matter, the frequency of our gifts doesn't matter, what matters is our attitude. What matters is our relationship with God. So I believe ultimately it's better not to tithe regularly (but e.g. give randomly when we see a need) than to tithe out of a wrong attitude of legalism (just keeping the rules) or because we want to look good to others.

Picture is by Frederick Goodall.

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