• 1 Kings 17: 10-16 • Hebrews 9: 24-28 • Mark 12: 38-44 • 32 Ordinary B 12 •
Hoarding is a sickness that apparently has become so pervasive in our society there now is a reality show on TV devoted to the phenomena. Audiences are brought into small houses were room after room is filled with “stuff.” Some of that “stuff” includes years and years of telephone directories, saved trash, catalogs from stores long closed and even dried up, dead plants. The illness probably begins with the thought “I just might be able to use that item some day.” I know because that is how I accumulated a drawer of plastic bags, the box of rubber bands and other less notable items. In our consumer culture, where buying comes so easily, the urge to accumulate becomes stronger than our readiness to give away.
Today two of our scripture texts are about “widows.” Widows or widowers are people who, long loved and in love, suddenly are left to face the world alone. Without their life companion, they wash only one cup in the morning and the silence of night is dreadful. It takes great courage to manage the pool of grief that is forever in their soul.
The prophet Elijah asked a widow for “a cupful of water and a bit of bread.” She was desperate, describes her meager resources, and tells Elijah, “when we have eaten, we shall die.” Although stripped of everything, “she left and did as he said.” This is a far cry from hoarding!
Mark’s Jesus holds a widow before his companions as a model to be imitated. “She, from her poverty, contributed all she had.” She gives because others have needs. Her extraordinary generosity is a far cry from hoarding!
Many years ago I read “Shantung Compound” written by the theologian Langdon Gilkey. It was a gripping tale from World War II of life in a Japanese internment camp. The Japanese treated their captives relatively well. When those interred were asked to give up some comfort for the common good, all kinds of reasons were contrived to avoid sharing. Resentment and complaining led to conflicts among friends. It seems all felt the same — “my life situation is precarious and uncertain. You should be imposed upon rather then me.”
I suspect we would find that “hoarding” occurs in every social situation. It seems “hoarding” is born of narcissism — a normal response of our primal instinct for survival. Rather then making us more fully alive and human, narcissism lessens or diminishes our humanness.
Today, when Jesus points to the poor widow he is telling us “this is what it is to be human. Be like her!” He is not telling us to relinquish all our possessions, even to feed those at the Pov. To do so would be foolish. He is telling us – “be generous with your possessions.” This is good news. For “generosity” frees us to love without condition, and that is what makes us more fully human.
Now please consider the action of the poor widow within the framework of our current political and economic system. You exercised responsible citizenship when you cast your ballot in the recent election. Only you know how you voted. Now we each are responsible for how we voted. The poor widow challenges each of us to consider the implications of our vote.
For several weeks we have heard and pondered the hard sayings of Jesus. His words call for self-emptying commitment to the “love of God and all other human beings.”
Our culture accepts the idea that those who make it in our economy are justified in accumulating wealth and material possessions without regard for those who are left out. Our economic system not only fails to act in the interest of the poor. It often acts against their interest.
Those in the “Shantung Compound” who said, “My life situation is precarious and uncertain. You should be imposed upon rather then me,” failed to grasp the good news illustrated in the poor widow. Our culture portrays luxury as the measure of a successful life. Jesus is telling us that “generosity” is the measure of a successful life for “generosity” is the mark of a truly human life.