There’s a story about a farmer known for the award-winning corn he grew. Each year he entered his corn in the state fair where it won a blue ribbon. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors.
"How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?" the reporter asked.
The farmer said, “That’s the way my corn stays good.” The reporter didn’t understand so the farmer explained. “The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn."
I know this is a corny illustration, but what is an agricultural truth is also a spiritual truth. As we share with others we also get blessed. As it says in the Old Testament, “Give generously, for your gifts will return to you later.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1, Living Bible). Jesus expressed the truth this way: “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” (Luke 6: 38 NIV) The Apostle Paul said it like this: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (2 Corinthians 9:6 NIV)
If we are to have good things, we must help our neighbors to have good things.
In this series we are talking about who God is calling us to be as a church and each week I feel like we are talking about the most important topic there is. The first week I thought helping people feel connected again is the most important thing we can do this year. Then, the next week, I felt worship, and helping people receive hope from God, is the most important. Then the next week, Pastor Jevon talked about our seeking justice, and I thought, no, that’s the most important. Then last week, I felt being difference makers is most important.
Well, one thing’s for sure, none of these are unimportant. But today, I believe God would say, “St. Luke’s if you get one thing right this year, if there’s one thing our world needs desperately, it’s for you to live generously.”
Now, you can take your hand off your wallet. Don’t hide the checkbook. I’m not going to focus on giving your money, because generosity has to do with so much more than our money. Living generously is about living with a desire to bless other people with everything we’ve got.
To help us I want us to think about this topic, I want to look at a story we affectionately call, The Widow’s Mite—the widow Jesus pointed out to his disciples as she put her last two coins in the temple treasury. It’s often told as an example of generosity.
Before getting into this story, I need to offering a warning, like the ones you see on TV before certain shows: “The content you are about to see may be disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.”
I have always loved this story. I always believed Jesus pointed out an old widow giving all she has as a paragon of giving. But as I have studied this story anew, I have come to an understanding that shakes that interpretation and puts a whole different spin on the story, but, one I believe is truer to the real meaning of this story and offers a more significant understanding of what it means to live generously.
You see this story actually begins with the preceding verse. Jesus has been in the temple court having tense back and forths with religious leaders. He says of the scribes, “They devour widow’s houses and for sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Luke 20:47) What does this mean? How did scribes devour widows’ homes?
Scribes were people devoted to interpreting scripture. Scribes helped people understand what God expects of them. They were not to take payment for this work. They were to support themselves. But over time scribes convinced people that their work needed full devotion, so they would encourage people to support them financially.
Now, not all scribes did this. And even those who received funds from people didn’t mean they all abused the privilege. But there were others; others less scrupulous. They played on the good will of people to get gifts and resources, especially widows. You see, women did not have full rights in that time. They depended on men to handle legal affairs for them. If a widow did not have a son or brother or brother-in-law, she was without representation. So the temple leadership would send scribes to help widows with their estates. You can see where this is going. Some scribes would pretend to care for the widows’ situation. They would even pray lengthy, showy prayers that would influence widows to ask such scribes to be their trustees. Once in that position they were able to claim for themselves a widow’s estate. It was one of the big scams of that time.
You know, I believe people today who scam the elderly will have a special place reserved for them in you-know-where. And if you want to know what I really think about that, just ask me sometime. Well, that’s how Jesus felt about these scammers. It angered him. He said they will face condemnation. But remember, these scammers were not mafia members. They were not criminals. They were religious people. They were people who studied the scriptures, scriptures that commanded the care and support of widows. But somewhere along the way, they got caught up in a system that allowed them to violate what they really believed. It’s easy to get down on the scribes, on the religious system of Jesus’ day, but Jesus points it out to remind us, it can happen anywhere.