11/11/12, I Don't Want to Let Go

I Kings 17:10-16, Heb. 9: 24-28, Mark 12:38-44 

When I came upon this picture this week, it intrigued me for several reasons.  One was my experience with young grandchildren who freely exercise the vocabulary of resistance.  I also heard this phrase from my daughter (the mother of two of those grandsons) this week as she was in the last moments of giving birth… “I don’t want to do this!  I can’t do this!”  Just then, of course, the granddaughter was born and all was well with the world.

This picture popped back into my mind as I reflected on the lectionary readings for this week. Although there are a number of ways one could make meaning of those scriptures, the message that kept coming back to me was, “It’s all about the letting go.”  We human beings, from the youngest age to the oldest, just don’t want to do that.  Our instinct is to hang on to life’s securities, to maintain control.  Let’s talk about that a little bit.

We are offered two stories today about poor widows who gave up the last bit of their earthly goods, offering what little they had for the sake of their belief in God’s work.  The widow of Zarapheth trusts Elijah’s promise of God’s provision, so she makes bread with the last of her flour and oil. In the Gospel, Jesus commends the widow whose pittance of an offering represents her commitment of 100% whereas those who gave much larger amounts gave only from their surplus.  From these parallel stories of sacrificial giving, where the result is provision and commendation, it is easy to draw a lesson that encourages giving.  If we just trust God and maintain an attitude of faith and generous open-handedness, we will always somehow be provided for.  Certainly this is a good lesson about the life of faith. Generosity with our worldly goods does reflect a healthy spirituality.  

But, our passage says, before Jesus sat down to watch people put money into the collection box, he gave this warning to those who were listening to his teaching.  “Beware of the religious scholars who like to walk around in long robes, be greeted obsequiously in the market squares and take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  These are the ones who swallow the property of widows and offer lengthy prayers for the sake of appearance.  They will be judged all the more severely.”

Why is that particular teaching connected to Jesus’ observation of what was going into the collection box?

Here I stand in my long white robe with a stole that marks me as someone unique in this community.  You might understand why this passage makes me a little nervous.

This nervous feeling causes me to wonder if Jesus isn’t trying to get people to dig even deeper inside themselves than the need to let go of worldly goods.  Just a few weeks ago our Gospel lesson was about the rich young ruler who couldn’t bear to sell all he had for the sake of following Jesus.  A number of times in a number of ways, Jesus taught about the importance of letting go of wealth in order to be a citizen of the kingdom of God. But there are other things we hold on to besides physical possessions.  In warning his followers to be aware of the religious leaders, Jesus points to humans’ love of being recognized for positions of political power, religious piety and intellectual superiority.  He says that it is the love of these things that lead to the economic domination of people who already have nothing.  Because we hang on to what we have, we end up perpetuating the injustices of our world.

Jesus never says that having wealth, or position, or power or intellect is wrong.  In fact, developing the human potential that resides within each of us is the first half of our life-task. We ought to diligently apply ourselves to becoming all we can be as we grow into adulthood.   What Jesus says to beware of is the “liking” of these things: wealth, position, power, intellect, and even social relationships. We struggle to maintain control of that which makes us secure, because it defines our sense of identity and self-importance. Psychologists call this the ego. The “liking” of any of these things causes us to not be able to let go of them, to not completely trust God with the total investment of ourselves in the economy of the Kingdom.  A mature spirituality surrenders all that we have attained to a cause larger than ourselves.  

As Jesus watches the contrast between what the wealthy put into the collection box and what the poor widow puts in,  he is reminded how hard it is for those who have much to surrender what they possess for the sake of building an equitable kingdom for all.  The poor widow did this: she gave 100% of what she had even though it wasn’t much.  The others went away retaining not only a comfortable amount of wealth, but also their social position and religious piety.  Jesus clearly saw the dilemma of humanity: it is hard to let go.

What could this mean for us today? Consider this possibility: If we are the Body of Christ, each of us has something to offer.  Maybe it’s money, maybe it’s intellectual knowledge, maybe it’s political influence, maybe it’s spiritual insight, maybe it’s simply time and service.   If we each openhandedly and fearlessly offered what we have, letting go of our need for controlling the outcome, the building of a Kingdom of justice and peace might actually become a reality. 

Are we willing to do that as Lumen Christi?  Can we be the light of Christ in this community by letting go of whatever holds us back and simply living into being a renewed presence of the Body of Christ in McMinnville?

All it takes is letting go.  All it takes is complete surrender.

By Sandi DeMaster