08 November 2015

Our faith is not an investment. . .

NB. A Vintage Fr. Philip Homily from 2006 on the widow's mite. . .

34th Week OT(M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

When mixing the dough for baking bread the proportion of water to flour you use really matters to the result. The same is true for mixing concrete—too much water or too little water threatens the stability and strength of your art—whether you intend walk on it or spread jam on it. We also use the notion of proportion in our ethical decisions as well: ratio of mercy to justice; whether or not this or that reason tilts the scales for or against making a choice. Think about all those moments in your life when you weigh portions in relation to one another and then pick out what you conclude to be the useful, the good, the beautiful, and the desirable and leave behind what you conclude to be the unworkable, the ugly, the harmful, and the just plain wrong. I would daresay that we humans are creatures of chance (we take risks), planning (we take control), and proportion (we weigh options). Is this sort of calculation—ethical, financial, spiritual—a gospel habit, a Christian virtue?

Jesus praises the widow in this gospel b/c she does not risk, plan, or weigh proportionate options when she drops her two coins into the collection box. She doesn’t offer a reasonable amount, a prudent portion given her income,. Nor does she weigh benefit against cost. She offers her whole livelihood. Jesus says, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest.” How does Jesus reach this obviously erroneous conclusion? The widow gives freely, completely, without reservation out of her poverty, her lack. The others give of their surplus wealth. She has acquired the virtue—the good habit—of magnanimous sacrifice. The virtue that Jesus himself will practice by dying gratuitously on the cross at Golgotha.

We know the Scandal of the Passion and the Cross: Christ our King is whipped, ridiculed, and executed as a criminal by the Roman and Jewish authorities. This is a scandal because he has claimed again and again to be the Christ, the Anointed One of God, one who possesses divine power to heal, heavenly authority over demons, and the prestige of being the only Son of God. Power never yields to weakness. Authority never abdicates its place of honor, its elevated status.

There is another scandal here as well: the Scandal of Excessive Generosity. For creation to be redeemed, for all of God’s creation to be brought back into right relationship with its Creator, nothing more is strictly required than that the Creator bring us back. A simple act of divine will. SNAP! And we are back right where we were in Eden. We could skip all of this “growing in perfection” business. In other words, we were salvageable as creatures of a loving Creator through a more prudent, a more calculated and less risky means: divine fiat. Instead, we are made righteous, made “children of the light” through the messy, wasteful, and ultimately ugly sacrifice of the Father’s only Son on the cross. For the practical among us, for reasonable souls, the planners and the risk-takers, this choice, this plan of salvation though suffering and death is “too much,” excessive and strictly unnecessary. Why not save us out of the surplus of divine wealth?

Jesus watches a widow drop two coins in the collection box, but in her he sees a kindred soul: one who gives not just a large portion of her wealth, not a calculated percentage of her leftover income but one who gives everything she has, her whole livelihood. And he sees in this widow a vision of his own sacrifice on the cross, his own excessively generous, needlessly gratuitous offering of body and blood for the reconciliation of creation to its Creator. It would have been more practical to leave Christ among us! To have skipped his suffering and death! But then, how would our Father have shown us His abundant love? His exceeding compassion?

Our faith is not an investment in risk-taking, planning, or prudently calculating cost/benefit. Our faith is a wildly generous, open-handed, open-hearted, full-throttled run, a redemptive marathon sprinted behind our Chosen Victim. We cannot give a portion of ourselves, a piece of our surplus wealth. We must give our whole livelihood, everything, all of it. . .nothing less was given for us.


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