Thursday, June 16, 2011

She out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had

And He said to them, "How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David? Now David himself said in the Book of Psalms:

'The LORD said to my Lord,

"Sit at My right hand,

Till I make Your enemies Your footstool."'

"Therefore David calls Him 'Lord'' how is He then his Son?"

Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation."

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had."

- Luke 20:41-21:4

In recent readings, Jesus has been teaching in the temple after His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. He has been questioned by the leadership. Yesterday, we read of the question posed to Him by the Sadducees -- who, contrary to the Pharisees, did not believe in the resurrection. The question posed a problematic scenario: if a woman married seven brothers in succession, whose wife was she in the resurrection? Jesus taught them they were wrong altogether, that the sons of the resurrection in that age are "equal to the angels" and are not given in marriage. He taught that "even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him."

And He said to them, "How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David? Now David himself said in the Book of Psalms: 'The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool."' Therefore David calls Him 'Lord'' how is He then his Son?" It's kind of an interesting question, in light of what has just preceded this discussion, because Jesus is asking us to have some perception of heavenly relationships. In the previous reading, we are taught about the age to come, a reality in which the sons of the resurrection, those who become the sons of God, are equal to the angels. Here, Jesus tries to assert a relationship of the human to the divine. How can the Messiah be the son of David, when David calls Him "my Lord?" And who is the LORD in this relationship? The answer is to reach beyond the emphasis on lineage and blood, and to understand more of relationship forged between the divine and the human, the intersection of the kingdom of heaven and the worldly life. The LORD is God the father, and the Lord is Christ, both human and divine. David, the author of the psalm, refers to the Christ as "my Lord." How then comes the emphasis purely on a kingly lineage? We recall that the Sadducees are themselves an aristocratic landowning class; therefore Jesus is still trying to get them to see the reality of the heavenly kingdom and its intersection in the world, the overlapping potentials that are to come in the resurrection also touch on such possibilities in our midst -- even as He taught to pray, "Thy kingdom come." The Messiah or the Christ, therefore, is not a purely human figure, but one who also bears the divine. As such, then, this Lord opens the way to understanding: those who may be "sons of the resurrection" may also become sons of God by adoption. "The Messiah," my study bible says, "is David's Son in His humanity, yet David calls Him Lord in His eternal deity."

Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation." Jesus then turns to the scribes. The scribes are a professional class of teachers of the Mosaic Law, in which they are experts. He criticizes their hypocrisy. But it's kind of telling that He turns from one notion of aristocratic lineage to another kind of pride of place and position -- and especially of hypocrisy. If, indeed, the sons of the resurrection are the righteous, then what are these? How have they assured their place in the kingdom? Hypocrisy, we can see, is perhaps Jesus' most despised practice; it is used to disguise injustice, unrighteous behavior. The Man who taught us that it is the pure in heart who shall see God never reserved His harshest criticism when it came to hypocrisy. The manipulation of appearances for an appearance of righteousness receives His most scathing criticism - and open condemnation. Such practices, He implies, are far from the hope of the resurrection and the kingdom. In a way, He is opening up discussion that began with yesterday's reading -- who are or will be "equal to the angels," the "sons of the resurrection," the "sons of God?"

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had." Again, we return to money and property, the province of the Sadducees who are a wealthy landowning class and who control the temple and the Jewish Council. It is not ownership He criticizes, nor wealth itself; indeed, He sought to teach the Sadducees in yesterday's reading, and they responding by telling Him that He had spoken well. His most scathing words are for the hypocritical experts in the Mosaic Law, the scribes who secretly devour widows' houses and make long prayers for pretense. Here Jesus make a union of His teachings, getting us to peer more deeply into what constitutes true worth to God, a really righteous life. It's not money per se nor status that can be used for appearance's sake. It is the love we have for God that makes the difference. So often the Gospels will use expressions of love from women in particular to make this wonderful point. Out of love this widow has extravagantly put in all she had. And that is the great gesture. That is not for show, not made with a hypocritical look to appearance, and it's not done merely from devotion to Law. But it is made from love, with love, and that is our example to follow. The poor widow, He implies, is the stuff of the ones who will be "equal to the angels" and a son of the resurrection. She is our example, the one whom He praises.

Let's take this poor widow then out of the context of the temple and the treasury and ask ourselves about the power of the love of God. Let's ask about extravagance -- even when others criticize -- in the expressions of the love of the heart for God. Isn't this truly what it is to be pure in heart? And when we speak of love for God, we aren't speaking merely of a figure far away, an image of deity or majesty or authority. No, this is love in the heart that responds to Love itself; if you will, deep calling to deep. We answer the depth of God Who is within us with our own depth in our heart when we open the door to real faith. Let us, then, think about love -- and how we can respond to its true Source, because even that kingdom itself is within us. This great extravagance of love is what it means also, if we think about it, to be "equal to the angels."