This past Sunday the Gospel reading was of Jesus teaching in the Temple condemning the practices of the Scribes and lifting up the example of a widow whom he observed give two small coins which was all she had to live on. I did not preach this Sunday, the Community of the Holy Trinity had it's annual community retreat at St Gregory's Abbey. I had been able to arrange for Rev. Dave Hedges to come out to preach and preside. So I heard his take on this story as well as Abbot Andrew's take on this story. Both Abbot Andrew and Father Dave questioned our use of the story of the widow as an example of sacrificial giving. Abbot Andrew was careful not to completely throw out the widow as exemplar, but qualified this interpretation with calling on us to look at the larger context of the story including Jesus' saying in condemnation of the Scribes who live of taking advantage of the generosity of widows. What I took away from Abbot Andrew's sermon was that the widow's exemplary generosity is tragic in that it was not necessary but occured because of injustices in the system, and the practices of some religious leaders. This should lead us to examine our wealth and incomes to see if and how we benefit from the poverty of others. Jesus call's attention to a person who would be otherwise ignored to show disparity and reorient our thinking about not only what we give but how we have gained what we have.
Father Dave, turned our attention away from the widow as exemplar of sacrificial giving: he was retooling the sermon from his stewardship sermon he gave in the morning to his parish. So his sermon was still concerned for what this passage might have to say to us about giving, and was less concerned with Abbot Andrew's emphasis on letting the reason for the Widow's poverty and exemplary generosity teach us something about the Gospel and our responsibility in the world. Father Dave directed us to see how Jesus turns our attention to the proportions and not the amounts. The proportions are disproportionate: The wealthy give large amounts but hardly notice the offering and are praised for their generosity, and the widow gives her whole living, and because it is such a small amount goes unnoticed except that Jesus points it out. The point is the great disparity, the proportions are unjust, it should not be looking at the amount but the proportion and a widow should not have to give all that she has to live on.
What I take from these two interpretations of the Gospel text is that in giving we are to be mindful. Mindful not only of what we give and in what proportion but of how we come to have what we have live on and to give. We are not only to give proportionately (not all of what we have to live on nor an unnoticeable proportion of what we have, even if it is a large amount) unconcerned about the amount, but also with the awareness of how we have attained what we have to give. Thus giving has to do with how we live, how we make money, how we develop our abilities and what we do with both our money and abilities. We can be and are called to not live as those Scribes who impoverished Widows by making a living off their disproportionate giving. This is certainly a challenge when it is not always clear where what we have comes from and who may have been impoverished so that we may have our way of life. The Fair Trade movement is one way that we can seek to not only be aware of injustices behind things we have or purchase but also seek share in more just economic processes and avoid economic processes that in the very least at their origin keep people in poverty. However, there is also the challenge of the reality of Slavery in our time where slaves are often used to cultivate cocoa, that is then purchased by Chocolate manufacturers. This slavery is hidden partially at least because until recently people were not asking questions, and is coming to our awareness as we realize that slavery is alive and well around the world though not in the exact form we are most aware of from our courses in history. Jesus calls us to awareness of disparity and injustice, and to seek ways of living that do not require the life of others and their impoverishment. The point though is not to necessarily be aware of all the twists and turns of everything one buys or has, but to be mindful of how one lives and its effects on others, and to give not out of a wealth based on injustice but to live our live proportionately within bounds and with an eye to others and awareness of the poor.