Offering: the story of the widow’s mite and Remembrance Day

Scripture: Mark 12: 38-44; Wisdom 3: 1-9

On Remembrance Day, we ‘bring back to memory’ those who served or gave their lives in war. We usually think of peace in terms of what it is not – the absence of war or violence. But Jesus spoke of peace as a gift that we can offer and accept. Before the Last Supper, he told his disciples, “My peace I give you” [John 14: 27]. When he sent disciples to preach in local villages, he told them, “Whenever you enter a house, say, ‘Peace be on this house.’ If anyone is there who shares your peace it will rest on that person, but if not, it will return to you” [Luke 10: 5-6].

Before we exchange the peace each Sunday, I say, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” You reply, “And also with you.” We offer each other the gift of mutual peace. It is much more than “Hello, nice to see you.”

The widow’s offering

In the story of the widow’s mite, to use the old King James words, the widow put two small coins into the Temple treasury. Hers is not a story of piety and faithful stewardship. She gave “all that she had” in order to pay the onerous Temple taxes. That poor widow must have really resented the Temple tax. Her rent and grocery money helped to pay for the scribes’ respect and affluent lifestyles, such as the banquets where they jostled to get the best seats. Jesus contrasted her donation with those of rich people, who had plenty to spare.

Offering is also a theme of Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day this year falls on a Sunday, exactly 100 years since the end of World War I. This makes parallels between the widow’s offering in Jesus’ story and the offering of soldiers who risked or lost their lives in war. The soldiers offered their lives – all that they had. Likewise, their parents and wives offered all that they had.

The church in the small village in England where my sister’s funeral took place has made a special presentation this year. Small crosses line the path from the church gate to the church door. Each carries a plaque with the name of a parishioner who died in WW I.

When Michelle and I visit France, I am always deeply moved by the war memorials. Even in the tiniest villages, the lists of names for those Morts pour la France seem impossibly long. They include many with the same family name, representing families that suffered multiple losses. Those elaborate memorials testify to the memory of those who died. They also symbolized the unfulfilled hope that this would be the ‘war to end wars’: that future generations would never endure such carnage again.  After WW II,  the European nations began to cooperate, to prevent future wars between them.  That hope led, in time, to the European Union.  Seventy years on, re-emerging nationalistic self-interest endangers that aspiration.

We should not limit our remembrance

On Remembrance Day we tend to focus on Canadians who died in the two world wars of the 20th century.  We read the names of those from this parish who offered themselves in those conflicts. But many survivors suffered post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), once called simply ‘shell-shock’.  Society now recognizes that many ex-service personnel suffer PTSD long after their term of service is over.  I cannot give enough thanks that I never had to fight a war, and neither were Charles or Robin.

At this distance in time, we have set aside the demonization of ‘the enemy’. We can now remember sympathetically those on both sides who lost their lives. Like our Canadian soldiers, those ‘enemy’ service people were mostly conscripts. Their families felt the loss of their loved ones no less keenly. We should also not forget those who fought and died in what sometimes seem to be “lesser” wars – in Korea and more recently in Afghanistan. They, too, are just as dead.

But that is not all. Civilians increasingly became unwitting and unwilling participants and targets in war during the 20th century. Horrific examples include indiscriminate fire-bombing of European cities such as Coventry and Dresden. That culminated in the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where almost all those who died were civilians. We have recently witnessed streams of refugees from Syria, people who have lost jobs, homes, and loved ones as a result of war. Indiscriminate bombings of schools, hospitals, and civilians has become the norm in the wars in Syria and Yemen.

Many non-believers argue that religion is the cause of war and conflict.

Religion can be a convenient way to distinguish “us” from “them”.  It can separate ordinary people into ‘tribes’ for political objectives. Judaism, Christianity and Islam have all had poor records in terms of what we might call the “brotherly love stakes”.  Israelite vs Canaanite in the Old Testament. Sunni vs Shia in today’s Middle East. Jew vs Muslim in the Holy Land. Christian vs Muslim in the Crusades, and again today in Nigeria. Catholic vs Protestant in Northern Ireland. All these conflicts use religious labels to fight what are really struggles for power and control.

The widow’s mite and charitable donations

I want to go back to the story of the widow’s mite in the context of giving to charity. Our parish donations to St. George’s are behind budget this year. However, I am not appealing to every parishioner to cough up more for St. George’s. In today’s Gospel, Jesus did not say or imply that we must give absolutely all we have to the Church or to other charities. He simply noted that the Temple tax was burdensome to the poor widow, whereas richer people gave out of their abundance.  Although St. George’s needs money to keep the lights on, all contributions are voluntary. Church is not a theatre or sporting event. where you pay an admission fee. Your offering to the church is not an obligation. It must never take precedence over providing for food, shelter, and family needs.

With a slightly different perspective, St. Paul wrote about a collection that his Church in Corinth was taking up for the Christians in Jerusalem.  “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, for the rendering of this ministry overflows with many thanksgivings to God.”

Legacy giving: an overlooked area of stewardship

Legacy giving means leaving bequests in one’s will. Many people do not think to leave anything to their church, usually because they were never asked. Often, people leave money to secular charities, but do not think of the work and needs of their own denomination. There are even tax-saving ways in which to make a bequest to the parish or diocese.

Christ reminds us that death in this life is not the end

Speaking of bequests brings me back to Remembrance Sunday. The writer of the Book of Wisdom understood death in a very Christian sense. The souls of the righteous (the saints, we called them last week) are in the hands of God. However disastrous we consider their departure from this world, they are at peace and will be with God for ever. That is also the heart of the Christian message, which we see most clearly in the story of the Resurrection at Easter.  Life is more than what we see in this world.  Jesus called it ‘eternal life’.  Today, we remember all those who have gone before us, including loved ones and those Canadians and others who lost their lives in war-time.  But we also remember that the Gospel message is that our immortal souls live on long after our fleshly bodies have been forgotten.