I remember a sermon on Stewardship Sunday one year, in which a priest told a story about a woman who only made twelve hundred dollars a month and yet gave 10% of her income to the church. The story was meant to get us all to honestly consider what we ought to be pledging, the premise being that if this poverty-stricken woman could give 10%, surely we could as well. For me the story backfired. I began to wonder about the institution to which the poor woman was contributing, and what she was having to deny herself in order to be able to do it. When you are only bringing in twelve hundred, one hundred and twenty dollars is quite a sizable donation.
I asked myself what her money was going to support? Was the church a place where people were welcomed and nourished in their spiritual development in a truly caring community? Did it extend itself to address the needs of the larger world? Was it a place of social justice, that worked for the end of the oppression and marginalization of all people?
Was the woman herself, because of her pledge, now finding herself in that difficult situation in which she had to choose between buying food and getting her prescriptions filled, between making a car payment and going to the doctor? Was her pledge really what God was asking of her, or was it something she thought she had to do in order to be a good Christian?
The story of the widow who gives everything she owns has also been used to bring up pledge amounts in churches. And yet as Jesus tells the story in today’s reading, it’s really a warning against the Scribes, people who “do religion” for appearance’s sake. They “devour widow’s houses,” Jesus tells his followers. And he makes a comment about the people casting money into the Temple coffers while he is watching: that the more wealthy of them are not really sacrificing much, but this widow is offering all she has. He is not saying that is a good thing.
It makes me wonder: how do we in our daily lives devour widow’s houses? How are we insensitive to others’ real needs? How do we impose our rules and values, creating hardship without meaning to? The more we can learn about the issues of those living in poverty, the better.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado