Sunday, November 8, 2015

Offering the Coins of Control - Homily for the 32nd Sunday in OT

From now until Christmas, we will encounter readings that touch on heaven, hell, death, and judgment. They prepare us for Christ’s coming, not only at Christmas, but most especially for the end of time whereupon we will all be judged—rich and poor alike—according to what each one has done in this life.

This morning, we see Jesus sitting opposite the Temple Treasury. In those days, sitting was the common posture for a teacher. But, in this moment, Jesus is not only sitting as a teacher, He is sitting as a judge (a great foil to the scribes who take “seats of honor in synagogues”), judging those who place their money into the Temple Treasury.

A quick detour about the Temple Treasury. The Temple Treasury would have been a sizable box at one end of the Women’s Court in the Temple. The money that was placed in this box would be used to build up the Temple. We remember that during Jesus’ day, the Temple was still being re-built. In fact, it was over the issue of the Temple that the people would crucify Jesus (cf. Mk 14:58), for He said, “destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it” (Jn 2:19). We know that He was talking about the Temple of His body—and, besides, Jesus loved the Temple; for the Temple was His Father’s House where, when Jesus was twelve, He would be found teaching—much to the amazement of the scholars there at the time (cf Lk 2:41-52).

So Jesus is in the Temple, sitting in His usual place of teaching, but now sitting as judge as both rich and poor alike are placing their money in the box to build His Father’s house. He sees the rich and then He sees a poor widow… and after seeing her, He gathers his disciples around Him and gives them His judgment:

Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury.

But how could this be? She only put in two small coins. The rest were putting in large sums. Jesus responds:

she … has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood.

*          *          *

What does this mean, “her whole livelihood”? It means that these were her last two coins—her only two coins. Once she places them into the treasury, they are gone, surrendered forever—such that, tomorrow, she has no more money for food, no more money for drink…. Indeed, one may rightly say that as the woman gives her whole “livelihood,” that she is really giving her entire life—a sacrificial offering even unto death.

She has become totally vulnerable. In fact, after this giving, she is even more vulnerable; for, now she has become totally dependent on God (or, at least, now she can feel it quite literally in her empty belly). She is going to need God in a way that no one else is going to need God tomorrow. She gave from her necessities; others gave from their surplus. They will have plenty; she will not.

*          *          *

Now, no one would have faulted the poor widow for holding on to her coins. Indeed, we probably would have encouraged her to hold on to them. “You don’t have to be so giving,” we would say. “You need to have money for food tomorrow.”

Quietly, we may even judge that her giving her last and her only is… foolish.

But let us remember why she is doing this. She is giving this money because it goes to build the Father’s House. She loves the Father so much that she wishes to give her very livelihood to build up His Temple. It is a love as foolish as Jesus’ love!

And notice: the widow gives, knowing that she will not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of her sacrifice. That’s how total and selfless her loving faith is.

*          *          *

How does Jesus respond? Typically, when someone exhibits such great faith, Jesus praises that person publicly: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith!” (Lk 7:9).

But here, Jesus says nothing. He doesn’t even say a word to her.

May I humbly suggest a reason why? He doesn’t have to. He doesn’t have to say anything because there is a conversation between Him and the woman that is already going on—and has been going on—and it’s taking place in her heart.

Just like the woman, Jesus loves His Father’s House too. Jesus’ love is foolish too. Jesus’ faith in the Father is total too. And Jesus’ sacrifice is an offering of His whole livelihood too. Jesus and the woman, therefore, share the same love, the same faith, the same Father—and so their hearts are already conversing, already one. Jesus doesn’t have to say a thing—all He does He look with a look of love. She has His heart and her heart is His.

This is what vulnerability to God does. It opens our hearts to receive Him, to be able to converse with Him even as with let go of our lives into the treasury of His heart, surrendering all that we are and all that we hold dear into the Fatherly care of Him who gave all to us in the first place.

*          *          *

What will tomorrow look like for the people in the Temple? For the widow, if she should make it to tomorrow, she will live in total abandonment to God. And if she should have food and drink, imagine her joy at having received that food:

            Praise the Lord, my soul!

For she will know, first hand, that all she has comes from the hand of the Lord. Everything will have become total gift. She will have discovered that there is a “dearest freshness deep down things” (Hopkins, God’s Grandeur) that comes from God. A sandwich will no longer just be a sandwich; a cup of water will no longer be just a cup of water. It will be all gift from God. She will know the Father’s love.

The others—they will go on tomorrow just like every day previously: thinking that everything is up to them. The food they eat will not be supernaturally provided, but simply the work of their hands. Life will be about control, about toil—and about the cost of maintaining that control. They will count the cost of love. Everything will have a price.

They will become godless, because the god they once believed in—a god they believed had no power to affect their daily lives—will prove powerless. And who will go on believing in a god like that? Being outwardly comfortable, they will continue on their way with no need of God, no space for Him—no room for Jesus at the inn.

And when they die, as we all do, they will see then that they were dependent upon Him for life—and especially now after death—for all the comfort and wealth in the world cannot build a bridge for us over the waters of death.

The poor widow will be in heaven—indeed, as her coins drop into the treasury, disappearing as do the treasures of this world, she is already there.

*          *          *

Jesus loves His disciples and so He gathers them to hear this, to reveal to them what He treasures. And perhaps as He gives His judgment, they start to consider:

Who will help this woman? Will God? Do I trust the Father? And isn’t He worthy of trust since He gave His heart’s treasure to us—that is, His Son?

And maybe those disciples who gave all and followed Jesus—maybe they are being called to purify their intention; for maybe they gave up everything to curry favor with the Messiah. Maybe they had mixed intentions which are being purified by the question: Do I sacrifice for love of God who selflessly sacrifices for me?

And maybe, as they see person after person dropping their coins into the treasury, maybe they may start to consider: what do I need to trust Jesus with? What do I need to place in the treasury of His heart? Where in my life do I need to let Jesus be Jesus?

Maybe it’s more than just the checkbook. Maybe it’s the calendar. Maybe it’s the job. Maybe there is a person that you need to place into the heart of Jesus… What worries you? What do you fear? What makes you vulnerable? Place that in the treasury!

It’s so easy to want control and to think that we have to control—and even that we’re in control. And maybe that’s the first thing that we have to drop into the treasury, to let it fall in total surrender… to be free of it… forever….

To turn and to see Jesus with His apostles—and to see Him looking at us…. and to converse with Him in our hearts, in total dependence, in total worship—amen, with our whole livelihood…

There’s freedom there. And joy.

And heaven. 

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