Thursday 11th November 9.30am Said Mass
Saturday 13th November 9.30am AUTUMN FAYRE St Andrews Community Centre
Remembrance Sunday 14th November 9.30am Joint Benefice Mass at St Peters
Coffee Mornings are held every Tuesday from 10.00am
“Beware the scribes who like to walk about in long robes… to take the front seats in the synagogues.” I read that with a bit of self-awareness, since yesterday I was in cassock, surplice, scarf and hood at the Cathedral, for the installation of the new Dean of Sheffield, Abi Thompson. Yes, I was seated in one of the seats nearest the sanctuary – the canons’ stalls. But there were dignitaries present who were greater than I. At such events, the great and the good come to gather to welcome the newly appointed person. There is plenty of mingling afterwards, although I hope it wouldn’t have involved obsequious greetings of the kind that Jesus describes.
Like the Temple in Jerusalem, of course, our Cathedrals are places where not only the so-called great and good come to gather, but where the poor, the homeless and the stranger can find solace. Our Cathedral is not one of the ones that charges an entrance fee, perhaps because there are fewer tourists than there are in some other cities and many people who have little.
After warning his disciples against looking to the scribes for an example, Jesus sits opposite the treasury to observe the people coming in and throwing in money. The rich throw in impressive amounts of money, because they can afford to part with it and still have more than enough to live in luxury. The offering of the poor widow, which was two of the smallest Roman coins, must have seemed trivial by comparison. But Jesus sees it in a different way. He could see that this was all she had. Far from throwing in a token amount of money or some left-over change, she had made an offering of her own livelihood – her very own self.
It’s not really possible to know the tone in which Jesus spoke those words, but I can easily imagine that they were spoken with passion. The offering made by the widow in some way points to the offering that Jesus would make. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of the sacrifices that were offered in the sanctuary day by day, offerings of animals as tokens of thanksgiving and repentance. Jesus makes a new kind of offering. Instead of bringing cattle or sheep, he brings his own self to be offered in sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus keeps nothing back and his self-offering is one which continues to give life and to bring restoration to fallen humanity and to a broken world.
Our world is still broken and the signs of human sinfulness are never far from our eyes. We can see the examples of greed, corruption and inequality, not only in distant parts of the world, but also closer to home. Jesus spoke forcefully about the exploitation of the vulnerable, such as this poor widow. He saw how many of the rich people, including those who followed religious practices, were content to profit from the poverty of others. There is no doubt in what he says to his disciples about where Jesus sees the signs of true religion.
The poor widow had something in common with the widow from Sidon, in the first book of Kings, who gave of the very little food she had left to share it with the prophet Elijah. She thought that it would be her final meal and yet she was prepared to share it. Sometimes it is those who have the least who are prepared to be truly generous. As Jesus teaches his disciples, our generosity is not measured by how much we give, but by how much we have left over. Billionaires can give away huge amounts of money and still live lives of great luxury. It is often the poor who know how to make real sacrifices, rather than just token offerings.
The words of Jesus are not just about generosity, but also about justice. Exploiting other people and seeing them as expendable is a rejection of God’s kingdom. Jesus reaches out to the poor, the outcast and the ignored. They may have little, but they are precious in the sight of God.
Jesus gave his life for us all, whether rich or poor, respectable or despised. As St Paul puts it in the letter to the Philippians, Jesus did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself. The widow’s humble offering is a sign that points toward the offering Jesus made of his own life. As we look to the sacrifice of Jesus we can give thanks that he gives us himself in the bread and wine of the altar that become his Body and Blood. As we receive these gifts we pledge to give of ourselves in his service and to discover both a hunger for justice and a spirit of generosity.
Jesus seems to set the bar very high. Token offerings have no place in his teaching. God has given us his own Son and the only perfect response is to give all that we have and all that we are. This kind of generosity is something we are never likely to achieve fully in this world, but we can allow our hearts to increase as we look to Jesus and the eternal sacrifice that he has offered for us and for our world. The prayer of St Ignatius Loyola seems like a place to start:
teach me to be generous;
teach me to serve You as You deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for reward
save that of knowing I am doing Your Will. Amen.