In our calendar today, we remember William Temple (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1881-1944).  Other sources I use also commemorate Leonard (a 6th century hermit).  Very little is actually known about Leonard.  He seems to have been a Frankish noble, converted by Remigius, who chose to become a monk instead when offered a bishopric by Clovis.  Clovis is supposed to have given him the land for his monastery after his wife went into labor suddenly  – Leonard prayed for their safety and mother and child survived.  He is supposed to have been very popular among crusaders for his work securing the release of captives (and there is some actual data to back this).

When William Temple was born, his father was Bishop of Exeter (and later became Archbishop of Canterbury).  He lived a life of privilege but had a heart for the disadvantaged.  He was popular and intellectually brilliant.  He quit his job at an upscale parish to work for church reforms (resulting in the laity having an actual say in church matters in the Church of England for the first time ever).  One of my sources quoted his writing, ” … society must be so arranged as to give to every citizen the maximum opportunity for making deliberate choices and the best possible training for the use of that opportunity.  Freedom must be freedom for something as well as freedom from something. It must be the actual ability to form and carry out a purpose …  … the first necessity for progress is more and better Christians taking full responsibility as citizens for the political, social, and economic system under which they and their fellows live.”  Something to think about on this election day.

It looks like I will not be doing supply this Sunday.  It’s nice to have a (rare) day off, even though there were things I wanted to preach about in Sunday’s lessons.  The first concerns Bible translation.  I remind you that in our earliest sources not only was everything written in Greek (after likely having originally been said in Aramaic or maybe Hebrew), but there was no punctuation, there were no spaces between words and new lines started in the middle of words.  There were also no chapters, verses, section headings or breaks …  As you can imagine, this posed some challenges.

The first section of Sunday’s gospel (with the section heading “Jesus Denounces the Scribes”) quotes Jesus as saying, “Beware the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets.  They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.  The will receive the greater condemnation.”

I am not enough of a scholar to really judge this, but the Jewish commentators in “The Jewish Annotated New Testament” suggest there is no justification for the comma after the word “scribes.”  And inserting the comma changes what Jesus says from a condemnation of certain scribes (who behave badly) to an (anti semitic) condemnation of all scribes.  They could well be right.  (And the section heading would seem to encourage this understanding.)

But what I really wanted to preach on was the widow’s offering.

I have always wondered if sometimes people with few resources didn’t give too much to support our congregations.  Giving something, something that actually matters in how you live, is, I believe, a spiritual discipline.  But I never wanted someone to go hungry (or even be unable to take some kind of vacation) in order the pay my salary and keep the lights on.  Jesus, I believe, wants us to have enough to live well (though that likely means having enough food to eat, perhaps a second set of clothes, adequate shelter and, perhaps, a little more …).

In the first section, scribes are condemned for devouring widow’s houses – for leaving them destitute when they should be helping them live well (presumably for their own, personal benefit).  Normally, I’ve heard the widow’s “mite” held up as an example of something good.  But if it’s really “everything she had to live on,” is the temple devouring the widow’s house?  And if a congregation encourages folks with fewer resources to give so much that they are left hungry or homeless, aren’t we devouring their houses?  (And William Temple seems to have (over) worked himself to death at the relatively early age of 63,  Was he devoured in God’s service?  Do we see this as a good thing?)

Frankly, I don’t understand the widow’s circumstances well enough.  I believe it was likely she lived in the home of a son (or other male relative).  Maybe she was fed there (or from a distribution from the temple) and what she gave was everything she had beyond what she actually needed to live well.  But it is food for thought.

And maybe it challenges us to think about what we actually need to live well.  (The founder of the Rockefeller fortune, late in life, was famously asked, “How much is enough?”  He answered, “A bit more than I have.”)  We are really trained to consume in our culture, and to measure our worth in the resources we control.  That’s certainly not how God values our lives.

I’m pretty sure that most of us contribute out of an abundance.  It’s almost like we’re tipping the waiter (when we’re feeling flush).  But God is not our waiter (though I did see Jose Ferrar in an interesting portrayal of God once as a steam-bath attendant).  And how we give of ourselves in God’s service is a deeply spiritual question – even (or perhaps particularly) when we’re talking about (our) money.

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