Monday, November 13, 2006

Giving from our Poverty

Yesterday's lectionary texts posed a particular problem for the American preacher. They featured two widow women, each lifted up by the biblical narrator for their willingness to give out of their poverty. As such, they provide marvelous examples of giving "with an open hand"--willing to give when one has little.

The difficulty for most of us is that we usually don't give in this way. Instead, we give out of our abundance. Whether it is giving a tithe (10%) or dropping a few dollars into the offering plate, church goers in this country usually feel very little pain when it comes to giving. Whenever we are actually faced with a situation which challenges us instead of opening our fist and giving freely we tend to grasp all the tighter. We can clearly see this in the wake of 9/11 over the past five years. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to open up and give more, like children we have chosen to cling, said Fr. Kevin Seasoltz in yesterday's homily. Whether it is clinging to the myth of security or drawing the tribal lines ever tighter, we have largely reverted to infantile behavior.

The Gospel, however, provides us with a very different model through these two remarkable women. As Fr. Kevin maintained, "real giving has a certain recklessness about it," as opposed to our tendency to want to keep back somthing from God. This may range from power, to security, to prestige, he claimed. Journeying towards God challenges this tendency in human nature. "It costs us nothing to give of our surplus," the homilist announced, "but it is always costly to give of our lives."
As Americans, such narratives come to us "from another country." We can't imagine such selfless giving. We are more like the religious authorities of Jesus' day: "Look at what we've done for you, God!"

Benedictine hospitality hearkens back to this gospel precept, inviting the recipient to begin asking, "What would it really mean for me to give back to God in the same way He has given for me in Christ?" As someone who is at his "peak earning power" privileged to be spending a semester away from my typical duties, I find myself faced every day with the many riches which confront me. Sure, I can complain about how I sacrifice to teach at a small Christian liberal arts college where the pay is less than I might receive somewhere else, but the reality is that I have so much more than I could ever have dreamed--and certainly much more than the vast number of my Christian brothers and sisters around the world. As I prepare to return home to my family for Thanksgiving, figuring out where I am at in the gospel lesson and what I am being called to do will be front and center.