Matthew 12: 38-42
Once again Jesus shows us that it is not what we do that pleases God, but how and why we do it. He begins this gospel by exposing the clerical phonies who dress up and strut their piety. They had perverted their vocations into an ostentatious ego trip. Their prayer was merely a public performance in praise of themselves. In building the New Covenant, Jesus warns us over and over about the insidious grip of pride. It is the fountainhead of evil.
Christ carries this theme into a brief exposition on charity. As he observes the rich folks donating to the temple treasury, their generosity is on full display. They have forgotten, or never learned, that the Creator of the universe has no need of their largesse. God wants our love, not the scraps from our table. Charity is not a public proclamation of our sanctity. It was never meant to be feel-good therapy for the prosperous.
With Christ, everything starts and ends with love. And charity is love in action…nothing more, nothing less. Charity is not about deductions or loopholes or write-offs. It is rendering to God the currency he values most…our love. Jesus extolls the donation of the widow who gave from the little she had. Hers is not a vain gesture. It is truly a sacrificial offering, a gift of love. As such her pittance is blessed. It is noble and bountiful and pleasing to God.
Jesus is obviously not afraid to look a gift horse in the mouth. He’s not heaven’s top fundraiser. He’s not buttering up the fat cats. In his eyes we are all the beloved children of God. We begin each day with an equal and infinite capacity for love. We are not expected to hoard it or sit on it waiting for a rainy day. We must use it or lose it. Charity is love in action, not love in storage.
As usual C.S. Lewis captures the heart of the lesson: “All our offerings…are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father greatly values… but values only for the intention.” With God it really is the thought that counts. And to God our innermost thoughts have been an open book since long before time began.
As Christians, charity is not some random generous act that we perform and then hurry back to real life. It is not an emotional response to a telethon appeal before we flip the channel. Charity is what we do. It defines us. It is why we are here. It takes many forms. And yes it does begin at home. But it doesn’t end there. It extends to the stranger and the least among us. The metrics of charity are often counted out in time, treasure and talent. But before any of that, there is the unmeasured essential… Love… the precious commodity we have been given by God to put to work every day… glorifying him by serving others.
We work at love because love works. It is God’s plan for us… the sole reason we are here. It is not a serendipitous surprise or a vague sentiment. It is a deliberate embrace of God’s grace. That means looking for God’s love in all things… receiving it… rejoicing in it… then passing it on. And that’s when the work really begins. It is God’s work entrusted to us… the work of witnessing his love… giving and forgiving… listening and helping… encouraging and inspiring… sacrificing and celebrating.
And doing it all in the humble spirit of the widow… in the knowledge that we are both a vessel and an instrument of love… but we are not the author of that love. As Paul tells us: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who love but Christ who loves within me. Invite that love in today. Then pass it on. Love works… if you work it.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.
Image from Ancient Resource