by Sebastian Faust
I’ve heard it in sermons; I’ve read it in books:
“Remember the widow’s mite. Be like the widow.
“We’re passing the hat; put your money in the plate. Because God loves a cheerful giver. Because it’s better to give than to receive. Are you poor? Are you struggling just to get by? We’re passing the hat; turn it over to God, and he will bless you for your faith.
“This church has programs. This church has ministries. This church has beautiful architecture, but the electric bills are a bitch. Give, and it shall be given unto you. God will surely provide.
“Be a good widow. We’re passing the hat. Put your money in the plate and nobody gets hurt.
“Remember the widow’s mite,” they say.
“There was a widow on the temple grounds. Amidst the pomp and the music and the colonnades, she walked with a bowed head, a bowed back, gnarled fingers clutching a threadbare purse. She could not read the Law, but she knew the commandments. She knew God wanted her to give. Quietly, humbly, she gave her last pittance.
“She gave from her poverty, an offering to the glory of God. Surrounded by the rich who made a fanfare of their offerings, who gave from their wealth, an offering to their own glory.
"She trusted that God would provide, that his eye was on the sparrow, that God would give back in full measure, shaken down and running over. With the faith of a saint, she gave what she had.
|It may be small, but if it's your all, it's enough|
“Standing across the courtyard, an unorthodox rabbi pointed her out to his disciples. ‘She is blessed. She gave all that she had and placed her hopes in God. Go, and do likewise.’”
But the problem is, he never said that, that “go and do likewise” bit. This wasn’t an object lesson on how to give. It was an object lesson on how not to take.
Did Jesus commend the widow? He did. He saw her act, he saw her heart, and he was touched; he was moved with sympathy. But that’s not how the story ends. His sympathy didn’t move him to laud her as an example; it moved him to curse the system that preyed on her. Because it’s a scene in a bigger story, a story that starts with a fig tree.
Once, there was a fig tree, green as summer, clothed in splendor, proclaiming the promise of fruit. By their fruits you shall know them.
Once, there was a fig tree, ripe with promise, declaring to the world that it was laden with fruit, abundant and delicious and bearing food for the hungry.
A man climbed a mountain to see this tree, to taste its fruit. “This is a marvel,” he said, for it was not the season for figs. Yet there it was, alive and abundant. The fig tree blessed by God.
The man came close. He pushed the leaves aside, one by one. He walked round the tree. He looked in the high branches; he looked in the low. But there was no fruit. You shall know them by their fruit.
This man, he cursed. He cursed the tree. He turned away in disgust.
Once, there was a temple, high on a mountain, shimmering gold in the morning sun. Once, there was a temple, tall and beautiful, the footstool of God, the house of prayer for all nations.
Once, there was a temple, ripe with promise, declaring to the world that it was filled with righteousness.
A man climbed a mountain to see this temple, to behold its goodness. “This is a marvel,” his friends said, for it was beauty with no rival. “This is a temple blessed by God.”
The man came close. He looked for the fruits of righteousness in the temple courts. He looked for goodness among the colonnades. But there was no fruit. By their fruits you shall know them.
This man, he cursed. He cursed the temple. He disrupted its commerce, scattered its merchandise, flung its money to the paving stones. He cursed a system and its constituents who would “devour widows’ houses” and in the very next verse he watches with pity as a poor widow brings her very last coins to pay the temple dues. Because she was told to. Because she was told to trust in God. He did not say, “Go, and do likewise.” This man, he cursed. He turned away in disgust. He left the temple grounds.
The man, his friends, they returned the way they’d come. They climbed from one mountain to another. At the crest stood the fig tree, once so green, now withered, blasted branches, blighted leaves. His friends, they marveled. “Look,” said one, “the fig tree which you cursed.”
“Do not be astonished,” said the man.
Looking back across the valley, he surveyed the temple mount. His friends turned to see. “Look,” said one, “the mountain, the temple which you cursed.” The man, he nodded. “Whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be flung into the sea,’ whoever says, and trusts in God, it shall be so.”
I’ve heard it in sermons; I’ve read it in books. But that doesn’t make it so. This isn’t a story about how to give. It’s a story about how not to take.
And so I shall say to a system that preys on the poor, that trades on the trusts of the weak, ascribes goodness to greed, reckons faithfulness by a widow’s last farthings: Be scattered. Be broken. Be flung into the sea. And it shall be so. Now go. And do likewise.
Sebastian Faust is an avowed heretic, armchair theologian, and a self-styled canary in the coal mine of pop culture. He takes life by the reins, bulls by the horns, and tigers by the tail, all while living in Nashville. You can't follow Sebastian on Twitter because he doesn't understand technology.
You can, however, follow On Pop Theology on Twitter @OnPopTheology or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/
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