The Barrel


The Rev. Dr. John H. Pavelko

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Year B -  Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 12:38-44

Two for You and None for Me

One for you and one for me

Children play a simple little game whenever they have a bag of treats to divide among themselves. They seem to have an instilled value of fairness. Sometimes I wonder if this is partially a defense mechanism to make sure that they themselves receive a full share of the prize. The game is simple. One child is designated the benevolent dictator who is assigned the task of distributing the treats in equal proportion. To ensure fairness, they usually vocalize their deeds.

One for you and one for me.

Two for you and two for me.

Three for you and three for me.

Could you imagine the shocked look on the other child's face if he/she heard, “Two for you and none for me.” That is essentially what the widow did the day she walked into the Temple to give her contribution to God. She did not withhold anything. She did not insist upon receiving an equal portion. She did not complain about receiving less then her fair share. She did not ask a priest if her tax was based upon her Gross Adjusted Income or Net Adjusted Income. She gave everything that she had to God.

The topic of money is not a very popular one in the church. I once conducted a survey of new residents to the community. Shortly after the for sale sign was removed from the front lawn I would go and visit the house. I would ask them four questions. One of the questions usually brought up the subject of money. “In your opinion, why do most people not go to church.” The most frequent answer was “Because the church is always asking for money.” While we do not know if he ever asked people for money, the topic of personal finance was one of Jesus' most favorite subjects. How a person handles their money revealed many things about their spiritual life?

Some people use money to impress others. This will vary from circle to circle. The size and features of a yacht will garner the envy of some. The rumble of an engine will draw looks from the NASCAR crowd. The latest composition shaft attached to the head of the driver that Tiger uses will make the golfing crowd jealous. College administrators know that large donors will seldom write checks for significant contributions unless a building will bear their name. Few of us will ever have the opportunity to use our financial resources as leverage to garner the attention and admiration of others but we still need to be aware of the possibility. What is the difference between demanding that the new addition be named in our honor or complaining because we were not thanked for our annual contribution to the Building Fund. Stewardship Committees should always send thank you cards to contributors but sometimes a mistake is made. What difference does it make if we are thanked or not?

The Pharisees enjoyed using their money to gain respect from others. They would throw their money against the copper sides of the collection kettles. When gold or silver strikes copper it produces a loud ring. Everyone who was in the Temple courts would turn toward the sound and catch a glimpse of the generous contributor. Without a receipt or a thank you card, the opinions of others was all the Pharisees had.

People will sometimes use their money to gain power or influence over others. This is always very noticeable during a major election. Large sums of money were given to candidates in hopes of favorable legislation after an election victory. Pastors know the difficulty of this ministry. While a person will not intentionally give to sway a pastor's decision or a session's vote, I have listened to a few colleagues who were very upset because of the threat of a major contributor.

Most people give because they want to support their church or contribute to the ministry of an organization. These people typically want to know that their money is being used wisely and is making a difference. This is why some churches have to rely on special needs donations. Tom gets cold easily so he will give to the building fund to repair the old boiler. Mary adores children so she is the first one to write a check for Vacation Bible School. She also was the one who went out and bought the DVD player that suddenly appeared in the CE Resource room. Fred believes that the youth are the future of the church so he provides scholarships for the annual summer mission trip. Harriet never makes a pledge to either the operating fund or the building fund but she has told the pastor to call her if a special request is needed. She paid for someone's rent last month and a heating bill the previous month. The pastor is wondering if she would be willing to replace the old worn out copier.

These scenarios are not that much of an exaggerate from real life. Designated giving is becoming so popular that the PCUSA has begun to charge a fee on designated mission giving to fund the administrative overhead. This may sound outrageous to us but it is common practice with para church groups. If you support someone who works for Campus Crusade for Christ, somewhere between 12-17% of your contribution supports the administrative services of Crusade. You cannot avoid this. This bothers some people because they do not like a faceless, nameless administrative hierarchy making decisions that affect their money. They just do not trust the board to make wise decisions. This designated mentality is carried over into the local church. Sometimes people believe they just cannot trust the session to make the right decision so they withhold their money unless they know exactly how it will be spent and they completely agree with the rationale for the expenditure.

Amongst the shadows of our manipulative, self-serving, controlling giving walks the widow. She approaches the copper kettles used to receive the offering unnoticed. She is not wearing brightly colored clothing that would attract attention. She does not have an entourage proceeding her. She walks up alone and quietly places her two coins into the kettles. The coins are so small that they hardly make any sound when they drop unto the other coins. A few men see her but do not see her. She is just one person among many. Her contribution will not be noticed. What a contrast to those who wanted everyone one to know.

She has given her coins without making any requests. A brick will not bear her name. The money may be used by the priests any way they think is necessary. There are no strings attached.

The woman has also given her coins without asking for a receipt or a thank-you card. She does not want a fuss made about what she has given. God knows and he is the only one she cares about.

Finally, the widow has done something quite different from all the other Pharisees. Each one of them gave a significant portion of their income or estate but this poor widow, she gave everything she had. The Pharisees had to worry about the accuracy of their division or multiplication. “One tenth of what I have is how much?” The widow gave 100%.

The church desperately needed to remodel the sanctuary. The carpet was worn. The color of the walls faded. It did not have a handicap accessible entrance. But how could they afford it? They were a large but older congregation with many people on fixed incomes. The leadership decided to hire a fund raiser. At the introductory meeting the fund raiser asked the leadership team about their goals for the project. Immediately a long time member of the church spoke, “You have to understand that we are a church that has a high percentage of older people, mostly widows on fixed incomes. So we really can't expect to raise too much money."

The fund-raiser asked to see a list of our major givers. He took the list with him at the close of the meeting.

The next meeting, he told the board that he had done an analysis of our congregation's giving.

"Please note," he told us in his report on his analysis of the church's giving patterns, "that the majority of your top 50 contributors are 'widows on fixed incomes.' Please note that, according to my calculations, those 'widows on fixed incomes' pay about 60 percent of this congregation's annual budget. I'd say if you want to improve the giving in this congregation, you need to talk to those women first, find out why they give, then try to infect the rest of the congregation with the faith of these 'widows on fixed incomes.'"1

From what I have been told the giving in most congregations is comparable. The widows are usually more generous with their money. Some may say that they have fewer expenses than a large growing family but do they? Or do they have an understanding of what is more important?

I never try to understand another person's finances. Each of us has a different set of priorities. My family may not spend money on cable TV but we buy other things. We may live in a nice home but we drive older cars until they can no longer be repaired. However, we are each called to offer a portion of our income to God in grateful thanks. In the Old Testament, the amount was referred as a tithe because it was 1/10 of families pre-taxable income. Actually, if the average Israelite followed the letter of the law they gave just over 30% of their income to the priests to provide them with an income and to care for the poor. If Saul, David or another king needed money an additional tax would be levied. Jesus then came along and told parables about how we handle our finances. They all contain a common theme to our story this morning. God expects us to use all of our finances for his glory. Each family must decided what that means for them.

Consider how you give? Do you donate to impress or to respond in obedience? Do you limit your contributions to your favorite projects or do you trust the decisions of the leadership of session? Do you donate to control or manipulate others?

In today's gospel Jesus used the example of a widow to exemplify how each of us should give.

Let him or her who has ears hear!



1William H. Willimon, “Money and How to Manage It,” Pulpit Resource, November 12, 2000.

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