I grew up in an upper middle class to wealthy community in New York back in the 1950’s and even though we did not officially have an entrenched caste system like India, it was pretty clear who was considered part of the in crowd and who was an “outcaste.” There were very few African American families in town and as I recall almost all of us were either working class or somewhere between there and lower middle class. The civil rights movement was just beginning to take hold in other parts of the country however given the times it was still wiser in my community to keep your head down and accept the social role you were assigned when in the company of the folks who knew they were “all that and a bag of chips.”
My experience is not unique. There are many people in this room who were and still are assigned the role of outcaste by others. People who to this day feel “not quite good enough” and who worry about whether or not others will accept them or think that they are worthy. Wanting to belong is part of being human. It is also human to want to be respected and treated with dignity. And sometimes we want to belong so badly that we fall into a trap, a way of thinking that makes unimportant things important, and important things, unimportant. Let me say that again, sometimes we fall into the trap of making unimportant things important, and important things, unimportant.
So what is important? Well advertising tells us that it is important to:
- Look Good – wear the right clothes, the best you can’t afford, the outfits that can make your social aspirations a reality.
- Have the Right – kind of car, live in the right neighborhood, send your kids to the right schools, have the right kind of home.
- Buy the latest communication and electronic gadgets as soon as possible so you will always be ready to communicate with anyone at any time of day and to watch videos and shows on screens that mesmerize your eyes.
We are bombarded with messages and images about how we should look, how we should act, and who we should be if we want to be respected and to belong. We can barely finish our Thanksgiving dinners before we are expected to hurry out to the stores to take advantage of all the great deals that await so we can buy more stuff to impress more people who are also out buying more stuff to impress more people, who are also out buying… well you catch my drift.
None of this is important. None of it. Not one scintilla of it is important. It never was and it never will be. The outside trappings of “success” do not make you successful in the eyes of God. That is what I take away from today’s lessons. What you have is not the true measure of your worth. And by the way, not having anything also does not make you better than anyone else either. The way I understand these lessons, it is all about what you do with what God gives you that is important.
In every New Testament story in which Jesus lifts up an individual as an example for who he is calling us to be, it is almost always someone who is doing something important with what God has given to him or her. If God is providing an opportunity for healing, that person asks for that healing and has faith that it will happen. If God is providing an opportunity for hospitality, that person welcomes in a stranger and graciously shares a meal. If God is providing an opportunity for compassion, that person stops and helps another who is in need. And, if God is providing an opportunity for giving, that person willing shares all that she has because she knows that she already has what she needs most, a loving God.
I wonder about the widow in today’s Gospel reading. Who was she? What was her life like? Why was she so poor? Did she have children to take care of and was there anyone to take care of her? Was she considered an outcaste? What made her faith so strong? What was it about her that made Jesus notice that it was she who put her life savings in the offering plate? I am almost certain that the widow was not motivated to give all that she could believing that it would raise her status or improve what other people thought of her. Nor do I think she gave her money thinking “Ah, Jesus will notice and I will be written into the scriptures and then known to people throughout the ages.” No, I think the widow gave because she truly understood what is really important in life.
I think the widow knew:
- That everything we are given, starting with God’s first gift to us which is life, is given with love. Therefore, when we give, it should also be with love.
- That it is more important to trust in God and to have faith in God’s love for us than it is to hold on to fear, doubt, and insecurity about what the future holds.
- That life on earth is made heavenly by the actions we take, understanding that we are part of something bigger, and that we always have something to give, something to do that will bring the Good News into fruition.
What we do in life speaks volumes about what we believe to be true. What we do says a lot about who we think we are, what we believe about others, and what we believe about God and what we know God is doing in our lives. So I leave you with two quotes to think about today:
- “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
- “Share some of God’s love while you are looking for direction in this crazy journey of life, it helps to make the ride a little nicer.” livelovequotesandsayings.com