In our Gospel story today, we see Jesus teaching his disciples inside the temple. He’s watching the people as they walk in and says this: Beware of these scribes and religious big shots that walk around in their fancy clothes. (I hope he wasn’t talking about bishops and priests) Actually, what he is talking about people that are flaunting their wealth, flaunting their positions of influence and important positions of power. They were showing off their riches and their expensive stuff, their clothing, and their prestige. Jesus was not noticing their wealth. What he did notice was their exaggerated self-importance, their conceitedness, and their style of showing others how better off they were than all the poor folks and unimportant people in the temple.
And they made a big show by impressing people about how much money they put into the treasure. In the history of the times, we learn that it was not uncommon for the important people that wanted to be seen and praised, to come into the temple with big bags of coins. Sometimes they would have a servant carry the coins for them. Then they would stop at the big offering box and pour the coins nosily into the offering box, a little bit at a time, so that the noise could be heard and appreciated all over the temple.
Obviously, the widow didn’t literally give more than anyone else. Jesus explains that the others gave what they didn’t need. She gave all that she had. This isn’t just about money. Jesus says the widow gave of her whole life!
This is the last scene of Jesus’ public ministry from a synagogue in Mark’s gospel. Just as the widow gave her whole life in her offering at the temple, Jesus is about to give his life. Jesus calls his disciples and us to give all of ourselves to even those who do not deserve such a gift. After all, isn’t that what the church is called to do? We are called to healing, ministering to the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the powerless. We called to help people in their struggle to free themselves from sin, fear, oppression, hunger, and injustice. We are to establish a just, peaceable, and loving rule to the world. And we are to do all this even at the risk of diminishing ourselves, our reputation, and our importance.
Tithing, giving a scheduled portion, also called a tithe, has always been the teaching of the Episcopal Church. It’s based on principles of financial stewardship in the Bible. The tithe is a portion. A tithe is often represented in scripture as the first fruits. In other words, before any other money is budgeted, the tithe is designated to be given back to God as a financial offering. You can argue whether you give a certain percentage of your gross income or whether that’s your net income. That’s not the point. The point is that it is a portion. It’s a systematic way of saying, everything I have I am giving it to you, and you own all things. But, on this day I will always give you the first portion, because I know it all comes from you and in tithing, I am giving it back to you.
Everything we are, everything we have, and everything we hope to be belongs to God. He owns the cattle on the thousand hills and all the beasts of the field are his. This world belongs to God. (Psalm 50:10) When we tithe, we are acknowledging that fact. The widow gave out of her need, and she gave of a portion of her life, as an example to all of us. In this way she was pointing to Jesus, who also gave his very life for us.
And as followers of Christ may we are also called to be good stewards, stewards of our time, stewards of our abilities and stewards of our finances. The best way to do that is in proportionate giving. The three things we talk about in giving involve time, finances, and talent. The three go hand in hand. It’s like sitting down to a meal of soup, sandwich, and a beverage. We want all three of those things, the soup, the sandwich, and the beverage: Time, finances, and talents.
This is pledge time, and I know we always emphasize this at this time of the year…As the late Rev. Terry Parsons, former director for the office of Stewardship of the Episcopal Church would say: The annual October Begathon! Well, October is behind us. We are looking forward to living as good stewards throughout the year, not just during the fall stewardship drive.
Let us be good stewards of the bounty and riches God has blessed us with, of our time, talents, and possessions.