Once upon a time, there was a preacher who boasted that he could preach a one word sermon which would include everything in the readings for the day. I don’t have that gift, but I would like to use one word to describe today’s readings. The word is generosity.
The first reading from the book of Ruth is the story of a widow called Ruth who became King David’s great grandmother. Ruth was not an Israelite, she was a foreigner from Moab, but through the generosity of Naomi, her mother in law, the generosity of Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman and through the generosity of Ruth herself, she married Boaz and gave birth to Obed; the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David.
The psalm is also about generosity, but this time it is the generosity of God. We usually use this psalm at baptisms because it is about children who are the heritage of God. But it is more than that. In the psalm, it is God who builds a house for his faithful ones, it is God who watches their city, God who give them honour and sleep, God who gives children and happiness. The psalm says that all good things come from God, who generously gives them to humans.
The second reading is about the generosity of Jesus, who gave his whole life and body and all that he had as a sacrifice for the sin of the whole world. The writer of the letter says that in the olden days, the Hebrew priest has to offer the blood of animals, year after year, using blood which was not his own. On the other hand, Jesus Christ gave his own blood, his own body, his own life all at once, so that the sacrifice would never have to be repeated. Jesus was generous enough to die for all people, good or bad, those already dead, those living and those not yet born.
This generous gift, freely given, once for all, is enough to give everyone the gift of heaven.
The gospel is also about generosity as well. Jesus ands his disciples were watching the people putting money into the collection box. It was a big solid wooden box, not like the little bags we use. There was a priest on duty to watch what people did, and each person had to announce their name and the amount they were putting in. The rich people gave large amounts of money to the temple. So Simon ben Adam, the wealthy Pharisee would say, “Simon ben Adam, one hundred gold pieces.” and all the people would say, “Well done, Simon!”
Then the poor widow, Anna, the daughter of Eve, came along, announced her name, and put in two tiny little copper coins. The people said nothing, but Jesus noticed. He called to his disciples and said, “Simon the Pharisee put in a hundred gold pieces, but he still has thousands of gold pieces in his house. Anna has given God everything she has. After giving the two coins, she has nothing else to give.”
Let me tell you a modern parable that tells the same story. Once upon a time, two friends, a pig and a hen, watched as the poor people came to St Luke’s Church on a Monday to be given a free breakfast. The pig said to the hen, “What a good idea, we could give the poor people a meal.” And the hen said to the pig, “Yes, let’s give them eggs and bacon. I’ll provide the eggs and you can provide the bacon.” “Just a minute” said the pig, “for you the eggs are just a contribution, but for me to give the bacon would mean total commitment.”
The hen could go on laying eggs for the rest of her life, but the pig would have to give his life to provide the bacon. Simon the Pharisee could come back next time and give another hundred gold pieces, but Anna the widow would have died – she had already given her whole life.
Jesus understood what was going on. After all, in a very short while, he himself would have to decide whether to give his life for the sake of the world. Jesus knew that Anna the widow had given everything, he was about to give everything. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down their life for their friends.” said Jesus. Jesus and the widow, whose name we don’t really know, show how generous humans can be.
Now we come to the point in the sermon where we apply the teaching to ourselves. Sometimes the preacher might say, “Go and do the same thing.” but when we are talking about generosity we know that generosity cannot be forced. You can’t force anybody to be generous in the same way that no one, not even God himself, could force Jesus to offer his life.
What we give to God, or to the church, or to other people is a matter between us and God. The widow freely gave her last two coins because she loved God more than life itself. Jesus freely gave his life for us because he loved us more than life itself. You know the quotation from John’s gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son.”
The widow’s generosity, Jesus’ generosity, God’s generosity and our generosity are not measured in dollars and cents, generosity is measured by how much sincerity we have, how much we care, how much we love.
And when we wonder who is going to measure our generosity, then it is not other people because they just can’t do it. We can’t measure our own generosity because our selfishness gets in the way. It is God who measures our generosity, because it is only God who knows how sincere we are, how caring we are and how loving we are.
Jesus criticized the Pharisees because they tried to measure their own generosity. Let us be as generous as we can with whatever we have, leaving it up to God to do the measuring.