Reflection for November 7th 2021
For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; 26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” 41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
I wonder how often many of us have heard these famous verses about the widow’s offering,
heaved an inward sigh, and thought to ourselves, “Ah, well,here comes a sermon on / about sacrificial giving”? Certainly, I grew up thinking that this poor woman is the model we are to follow for giving to God through the church. And, at first glance, it does seem that Jesus
is teaching us to give everything we have to live on, to give till it hurts.
But what if this is not what he is teaching? What if he was sad, just plain angry – even incensed – about what he saw? Here he is, in the temple precinct, denouncing the scribes, and he’s not mincing his words. These legal eagles love strutting about in their fancy robes, basking in respect, bagging the best seats in the synagogues. They’re obsessed with Israel’s religious Law, making sure it’s kept down to its minutest detail. But they don’t actually keep it themselves! The Law was crystal clear; Israel’s people were to care for the vulnerable – and especially the widows and orphans so belovedof God. But these ‘spiritual elites’ are doing the exact opposite; using legal tricks to rob widows of their houses, leaving them destitute and homeless – and all the while virtue-signalling their piety by praying long prayers in public.
So, right after he has finished lambasting the scribes for their hypocrisy could Jesus really be praising this widow for giving her last two coins to the temple? Surely the temple authorities should have been giving hermoney – not taking her last two coins! Is it not more likely that the Jesus we know is just simply outraged at this shocking example of poverty and injustice? What do you think?
And, this question raises another, possibly more challenging question. And that is, does God even desire this kind of sacrificial giving? After all, in the Old Testament, he says himself, “I desire steadfast love, and not sacrifice.” He only gave his people the animal sacrifices because Israel, like all of us, no matter how hard we try, could not fulfil his one great commandment to love, with steadfast, unceasing, unfailing, self-giving love like his own.
And so, year after year, in the temple, the high priests offered atonement for the people of Israel with the blood of sacrificed animals, until, after generations and oceans of blood
God came himself, in his beloved Son, to offer his human life of perfect, self-giving love
“once for all to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself” with his own blood, the blood of God incarnate.
Jesus has made the perfect sacrifice to end all sacrifice, for allpeople, for alltime. His sacrifice cannot be repaid in any way. It is God’s act of sheer grace, and there is nothing that we can offer in return. God does not ask us to give till it hurts. Jesus has done that for us, on our behalf. And yet God as not stopped calling us to keep his one great commandment to love. But that unfailing love still eludes us. The world is still full of poverty and violence and injustice,all the misery caused by all that is not love. Of course, we long to change things for the better; we make laws, we try to change human behaviour, outwardly at least.And yet try as we might, it seems clear that the human race cannot change our fundamental nature. we cannot transform our hearts, our inner beings.
But what does change us, inwardly, in the very depths of our beings, is coming to share in the perfect life of Jesus. It is that communion, with the risen Jesus Christ that transforms us; slowly – far too slowly for me – but steadily, until we find that his love has, quite simply, taken root in us. This is a great mystery. But one that nevertheless is happening in and to each of us, and what is taking place in a very special way each time we eat the bread and drink the cup of Christ’s body and blood, and share in his eternal offering for you and for me, for the whole human race.