Strength of Faith.

A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. 

We are near the end of our Ordinary Time reflection on Strength of Faith. In these last two weeks Jesus’ message focuses on the end times, the eschatological moment. Considering His immanent return, we are to offer Him our complete surrender. We are to walk the gospel path even more closely. We are to redouble our efforts in strengthening our faith by placing our full trust in our heavenly Father.

Jesus has been teaching in the Temple. His subject, in the passage from Mark today, is on strength of faith. Jesus compares the weakness of self-interested faith exhibited by Israel’s religious leaders and then points to a poor woman and her total gift, the giving of all she had.

God measures our strength of faith, not in the amount of stuff we do, not by counting, but by the totality of our spirit in doing it. We are measured by how deeply and completely dedicated we are to the gospel way.

Jesus well knew, while teaching in the Temple precincts, that He would completely surrender Himself to His Father’s will in just a few days. His all would be given through the torture of the Passion and His death on the Cross. He also knew that He had to show us the way, and He did so through the example of the widow’s absolute surrender and total trust in God.

Jesus points to the religious leaders of the day. They were honored in everyday language. They were given the head seats at the synagogue and at feasts. The people even stood as they passed by in their flowing white robes. Jesus condemns them for being self-intoxicated, men who even abused their privileges by sponging off the poorest, literally devouring them.

Here in contrast comes the devoted widow. She had nothing but her last two coins. Remember, widows depended on others for support. She had no support network, no friends to help her out. What she had she had, and… she gave it to God. That is an act of Strength. That is an act of Faith. That is trust in the heavenly Father. Her poverty exhibited in the coins she gave, the smallest minted in Palestine, a copper “lepton” worth one eighth of the smallest Roman copper coin, a “quadrans” worth a penny.

Others were literally throwing in (eballon) their gifts, like a rich man burning money. Wrapped in their security blanket, they thew in their ten percent without a thought.

The nature of the widows gift was not in its money value, it was in her total giving. Her placing it (ebalen) showed the motivation behind her gift was total commitment to and trust in God.

As we approach the last days, as we look forward to Jesus’ return, let us live like the Widow – all in.

You have heard
it said.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life”

As we discussed over the past two weeks, this Pre-Lenten season’s readings are taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ teaching takes the Commandments of God and instruct us in the way we are to understand and live them. Jesus commandments, His way, His fulfillment of the old Law, His right interpretation is for us, so we can truly live.

We have been reminded, in this season of preparation, that we are to turn and focus on living in the way Jesus defines. This great opportunity moves us not just into unity with life as God designed, for unity with that way of life is not enough. Rather, we are called to dive headlong into the fulness of God’s way.

At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus demands more of us than His words alone describe. He calls us to complete integrity of life. If we live His call to integrity, the reward is great. The reward is fullness of relationship and inheritance. It is a joy without compare or equal. However, if we do not surrender to Jesus’ way, if we are not all-in, the caution is, we grow ridgid and cold. Sin creeps in and puts the frost on. The cold goes deeper and deeper and we lose touch with God and with our very selves.

This season of preparation, with only today plus two more days to go, has been a wakeup call. In the Orthodox Churches the Sundays before Lent are days of clean out. The home is cleansed of earthly things like meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. This clean out symbolizes the call to detachment from distraction, from the things that may hold us back from jumping in headfirst.

Hearing Jesus’ words today remind us of this necessary detachment.

Jumping in headfirst requires an act of faith and trust, complete trust in God. It requires trust that says nothing we have, nothing we desire or value outside of God, is of any consequence. They are things here today, gone tomorrow. Seemingly beautiful in the now but only fuel for the fire, or the dumpster, or the landfill tomorrow.

Faith and trust in God, in His word: “do not worry about your life,” is a surrender. As we enter into the Great and Holy Lent this Wednesday let us recognize that proclamation is not enough, worship is not enough, setting aside food, and place, and wealth for a time not enough. Rather, we are to value God above all, setting aside what the world says for what Jesus says, and surrendering fully.

I give
up.

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days

We know that the human body needs food and water to survive. A human can go for more than three weeks without food, but water is a different story. At least 60% of the adult body is made of water. The maximum time an individual can go without water is about one week in ideal conditions, less in more difficult conditions, like the broiling heat of a desert.

Jesus in His humanity is just like us (except for sin). It is unlikely that He gave up all food and water during His fast. What He did give up in the desert experience was any hint of self will. There, He fully connected with the Father and conformed Himself to the Father’s will. He accepted the hard road ahead as His mission. This experience, separated from human company, barely existing, the ultimate in aloneness, prepared Him and strengthened Him such that no temptation, no allure could pull Him off the Kingdom mission.

Believers are often called into a profound and mystical desert journey. It is a certain time of aloneness and apartness where we face the big roadblocks that are in the way of our journey to heaven. In that time, we break down the roadblocks, grind down the speed bumps, burn away self-interest, and commit to the road toward the kingdom. In the desert, we find God’s mission for us and learn to differentiate between the things that keep us on mission or draw us away.

This week we faced a horrible tragedy in Florida. Lives taken, young, beautiful lives that will never have the opportunity to experience the desert journey of growth. Rather, they were pulled away from all of life’s experiences and opportunities.

Jenny Rapson, writing at For Every Mom, notes that seventeen souls lost their lives on the first day of Lent. She asks us to seriously consider what we are giving up for Lent as individuals and as a nation. Reflecting on Jesus’ desert journey. she says: “Let’s give up, as a country, as a nation, let’s give up whatever it is” that blocks us from doing what is right; “whatever it is that allows people armed with assault rifles and shotguns to keep coming into schools time and time and time and time and time again to murder our children and their teachers. Let’s give that up. Let’s identify that thing and then let’s lay it down and sacrifice it so no more children have to die.”

Her poignant words call us to rise to the challenges we face as individuals, communities, and as a nation. They remind us that the desert experience must be part of our everyday lives. We must take the desert road to determine what we must give up. the actions, thoughts, and words that do not live up to the Father’s will and His Son’s example of resisting temptation, bringing healing, offering peace, and living anew.

I give
up.

“You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

Christians are oddball people. It took me quite awhile to figure that one out. They give up.

When I was young I used to read the prayers in the pew missal. There were all kinds of prayers – a prayer of confession. There were prayers to be said after receiving communion (something we find on pages 1-8 of our pew missal). A there was this prayer that really bothered me. A few lines from that prayer (attributed to Ignatius of Loyola):

“Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess”

I said to myself – hold on – that cannot be right. Why would I give up those things? Didn’t God give me a will in the first place?

Frankly, this prayer confused and angered me. In those feelings I eventually found the source of my sin, and the source of all sin. It is our tendency to say ‘my way or the highway.’

Throughout biblical history God asked His people to surrender, to give up their will and to do His will. Again and again His people said no.

Jesus set before us the prime example of surrender as He prayed to His Father in the garden: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Jesus agonized over surrender so much that He sweated drops of blood. Surrender is hard work. It requires intense warfare against our tendency to say no; to say ‘my will be done.’

Jesus asks us to do the hard work of surrender each day and today’s scripture exemplifies the level of surrender we are to have. It is extreme, it is powerful, and it is scary. It means saying yes to God and no to the world – even to family and friends. It means we may be hated or even killed.

If we surrender everything to God, if we choose – and we have to choose one way or the other – we rely on God to work things out. We stop trying to manipulate, plan, force our agenda, or control the situation. We no longer react to criticism or rush to defend ourselves. Our way of relating is changed. People are no longer the other. They are now before us. We are no longer self-serving but other serving. We let go and let God work. Instead of trying harder, we trust more.

Each day let us truly give up – giving all we have up to God. In that we will be victorious. As Revelation tells us: they have conquered because they loved not their lives even unto death.