But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40
I’m sure that you have heard a pastor or two say that our checkbooks are a good indicator of our spiritual maturity and a good barometer of our faith and love for God. I am friends with several pastors and I know that it is not easy for most pastors to talk about money. These humble pastors understand that they have a conflict of interest when they teach about the Biblical mandate about tithing, because they depend on the generosity of their congregants to pay their salary and keep the lights on in the sanctuary. Don’t you wish that our elected officials had the wisdom and humility that most pastors do? It sure seems like most of our elected officials have no trouble voting for pay increases for themselves and spending taxpayer money to serve their personal agendas, catering to the donors who helped get them elected.
Why do we have a tendency to complicate things and look for loop holes when it comes to generosity? Honesty moment. It’s easy to tithe so that our kids will be able to attend a private church school. Tithing is easier for us to swallow if we can write it off our tithes on our taxes. Tithing is more palatable if we agree with what is being taught in the pulpit, and the teaching doesn’t step on our toes too much.
But I don’t want to talk about tithes to the church or political contributions this morning. I want to talk about Jesus and his view of money and generosity.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” – Mark 12:41-44
Jesus was impressed by those who had the least but gave the most.
I experienced this first hand on a medical mission trip to Ecuador some time ago. Our team traveled to Pillaro, Ecuador to set up a medical clinic in a church in the mountains for one week. I was the “pharmacist,”I took the blood pressures and pulse, and I even assisted our team doctor in a surgery to remove a large ganglion cyst from a young girls wrist. Our makeshift clinic had dirt floors, cheap plastic chairs, a wooden table for operations, and bedsheets on twine to separate the operating room from the waiting room. The sweet people who came to the clinic were lined up out the door hoping for a chance to meet the Americans who were there to help them. The doctor prescriptions from the doctor where given on sticky notes and all of the patients needed medication to eliminate intestinal worms that made these dear people miserable. Drugs that we take for granted like Tylenol and vitamins were highly prized and led to big smiles every time I handed out a bag of them. In Ecuador you don’t need prescriptions to get medications, if you have the money, which most people didnt’, you could buy whatever drugs that the pharmacies had available. The people would walk miles to buy one aspirin or Tylenol tablet if they had pain because that is all that they could afford then they would walk back home. So imagine how they felt getting a whole bottle of Tylenol for free!
The people were so thankful that we were there to help them. For the first time, I got to feel what it is like to be a front-line missionary. I got to be the one to hug and help the people that others back home were supporting with prayer and financial assistance to our medical mission trip. These people didn’t know that they were poor by our standards. They smiled, laughed, and talked about their faith in Jesus (which I only understood through an interpreter). They insisted on having a bathroom outside the church for their American visitors that was much nicer than the filthy bathroom that the Ecuadorians used right next to it. It made me very uncomfortable to walk out to use the bathroom while all the people bowed and treated us like royalty. One afternoon the Pillaro residents served us lunch. We had soup with local vegetables and poultry. I like meat, but my bowl of soup had what looked like an entire Cornish Hen, minus the head and most of the feathers. The townspeople who had prepared our lunch watched us eat our soup with anticipation. In the middle of each of the American’s bowls was a whole bird that you had to pick up with your fingers to bite off a chunk of the bird’s rubbery boiled flesh. We wanted to be polite, so most of us ate a few bites of the meat, but we mostly just ate around the birds in our bowls.
When I declared that I was finished, the local dentist/translator who was with serving with us that week told us that these people had given us all that they had to live on that day. When I asked if they were going to eat too he told us that they already had eaten soup without meat in it. They had used the best of what they had to feed us. As we handed our bowls back to the servers I was shocked to watch them gobble down the rest of the meat that we didn’t eat. This trip helped me understood Jesus’ teaching on the poor widow in a totally different light.
This past week I have been thinking a lot about Jesus two greatest commandments to love God and to love people. As I thought about what following these two commandments looks liken in my life when it comes to generosity, I came to the obvious conclusion that God doesn’t need our money. He is the Creator of the Universe for Pete’s sake. I’m wondering if God wants us to take what we desire to give to Him and share it with the people around us. Yes, this can be done through a your church tithe, but I think that God is very pleased when we take what we would gladly give Jesus if He was standing in the flesh in front of us, and use it to bless people and help those who are struggling around us. I’m blessed to be a father of four children. I don’t need any money from them. I’m the happiest when they love, encourage and support each other in words and actions. I have a feeling that God feels the same sense of pride in His children when we love, encourage and support each other too.
Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38) I have found that this teaching from Jesus is very true. It truly is impossible to out-give God. In one of the last conversations that Jesus had with Peter he challenged Peter.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” – John 21:15-17
How would we respond if Jesus stood before us and asked us if we truly love Him? Do we love and trust Him enough to soften our death grip on our time and money? Do we walk through the day thinking about what we want to buy next or do we walk through the day looking for opportunities to be generous and bless others? Jesus said the two greatest commandments are simply to love God and to love others. How can we say that we love God when we don’t love the person next to us? I think that we would do well to feed the Father’s sheep too.