I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of “The Philanthropist.” But an episode we saw last night was compelling and seemed as is wont to happen, to dovetail with a scriptural reading of the day before.
In a nutshell: The philanthropist, Teddy finds that some one has gotten his credit card and is using it, not just for personal gain, but to actually help people. He goes in quest of the thief.
In his journey, he comes upon a recipient of largess, a man in a wheelchair. The impostor Teddy has paid for a ramp to be built on his front porch. After hearing the story, the real Teddy inquires whether there could be updates inside as well, and then tells the man he will pay for further alterations.
The man is overwhelmed and continues to thank Teddy, who continues to put him off, finally telling him, “Seriously, this is nothing to me at all. Nothing. I mean it doesn’t affect my life, please don’t thank me.” The man looks on in wonder, and says, “I’m happy to have met you.” Teddy replies, “it’s been my privilege to meet you.”
This came on the heels of this passage from Mark:
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all these who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (14:41-44)
There seemed to be a message here. In the previous verses, Jesus had commented on the scribes, and their pomposity in being SEEN as pious. Here he seems to comment on the wealthy and their SEEMING largess. Just a few chapters earlier in Mk 10: 17-22, we have the story of the rich man, and Jesus advising him to sell all and follow me.
What are we to make of all this? Are we to impoverish ourselves in order to be Christlike? I don’t think that is what Jesus meant. As to the story of the rich man, most I think realize that this is not an injunction to become poor, but a wake up call to consider where you place your values. The rich man was ” grieved” at the thought of giving up his possessions.
Similarly, I don’t think that the message of 14:41-44 speaks to it being better to give up all your resources to be blessed. The sticking point perhaps for the wealthy who have given more to the treasury is their doing so publicly so all can admire their giving.
Like Teddy, their giving does no harm to their lifestyle whatever. In that sense, it is no gift at all, but is but what is expected. They have more than they can use, it should be as a matter of course given to the public upkeep. Nothing to applaud here, nothing to see, move along.
We too fall short of the mark when we limit our giving to the “sanitary” offering of money, not wanting to get our hands dirty or expend our precious time in actual service. The widow, humbled to appear among the wealthy and still offer her small sum, was herself reduced by her giving. She would suffer want herself. It meant something to her to give that penny.
We have to ask ourselves, are we pleasing God by simply giving of our abundance, taking some satisfaction that we are checking off on the list of “how to get to heaven” another item? We walk near the homeless woman and drop a few dollars in her basket, avoiding eye contact, avoiding the reality of her life. We feel satisfied and move on, having done our duty.
Yes, undoubtedly the money contributes, and nobody is arguing that the rich and famous of Cape Cod and the Hamptons should stop their fund raiser balls and extravaganzas. But like Teddy, they are not personally touched by their giving, not limited in what they can buy, use or consume. It is after all, a tax write-off.
It is our nitty gritty getting down in the ugliness of life, and rolling up our sleeves and entering into the lives of the poor that counts most I’m convinced. Only there do we learn the important lessons of compassion and empathy that will transform our own lives.
I have often found it interesting that conservatives tend to quibble about “who is really poor.” They like to define away whole groups, the immigrant who is not legal is not one we need address with our help. Nor the lazy, nor the emotionally precarious, for the most part. People who make poor choices are not in the mix.
Yet, try as I might, I can no where ever find in the bible anything but “the poor.” I can’t for the life of me find the “actual poor” the “entitled poor” or the “real poor.” I find only THE poor. Not in the Hebrew Testament nor in the the New Testament. Jesus seemed never to have drawn any distinction between worthy poor and unworthy.
I have been no better than most, worse by far than some, and better than a few in all this. I am learning, growing, and hopefully with the Spirit’s help, I am seeing the Master’s meaning aright. It is a thing to ponder on I believe. What say you?