Monday, February 11, 2019

Generosity in the Face of Corruption

Luke 20:45-47; 21:1-4
February 10, 2019

Jesus was teaching disciples in the temple,
people were walking by doing what they usually did
and he was using them as object lessons.
It says that he was doing this loud enough
so that everyone that was around them could hear.
The scribes and Pharisees had just finished up
a conversation with Jesus and were walking away.

And he Jesus out loud “Beware the scribes”
Watch out for those guys we were just talking with.
They like the accolades of being leaders,
they like the notoriety and respect,
but they devour widow’s houses.

Scribes were not just people that transcribed things.
They were the interpreters of religious law
and they were the record keepers for the temple.

Historians now, don’t seem to be in agreement about
what set of shenanigans these scribes did that would
devour widows houses and what Jesus was referring to
but the best guess is that it involved the temple tax,
the fee that Jewish people were
obligated to pay for the upkeep of the temple.
The tax was one half shekel, or about two days wages,
every year for every Jewish male over 20.

The most likely scenario, is that in interpreting the law,
and keeping the records, a scribe could have
determined, truthfully or not,  that a woman’s
deceased husband was in arrears on their temple taxes,
and demanded that the widow give everything
she had left to the temple, thus devouring their houses.
And the scribes might get a percentage of the collection.
The Widow's Mite
Louis Glanzman
So Jesus was saying that the scribes were
taking advantage of their position .
Jesus is describing corruption.
The definition is simple enough:
 “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those
entrusted to a position of power.”
People taking advantage of the positions
they’ve been given for their own gain.

The fact that many of them were corrupt
seemed to be common knowledge that was
just not said out loud very often.

But on this backdrop of corruption,
of Scribes walking around in long robes
wanting seats of honor, and devouring widows houses,
an obviously poor widow comes into Jesus field of view.

Now widows were not compelled to give to the temple tax.
Women couldn’t work, and people with no earnings
were not legally obligated to give.
This woman didn’t have to give anything.
But she still gave what she had -- to God.

Remember in this time there was only one temple.
Only one way for Jews to worship,
only one place that was interpreting the word,
and keeping God present in people’s lives.

There wasn’t another one across town for her to go to,
there wasn’t even another non-profit, social service agency
to support and give to. The temple was it.
If she wanted to give to God, this was the option.
And still in the face of the corruption of some
of its leaders, the widow gave.

We don’t know why she gave.
Her gift was generous considering how little she had,
and her gift was also bold hopefulness.
It showed that she believed that God’s justice would prevail.
Maybe we think that corruption in religion
started with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker
and Jimmy Swaggart and other televangelists
in the 1980’s, but this is an age old problem.
As long as people have realized the power of God
people have tried to use it for their own benefit.

And religious power isn’t the only power people
use for their own gain.
Our world today seems awash in corruption.

Here is a disturbing map I discovered.
The Corruption Perception Index.
The perception is according to 
experts and business people.
Bright yellow is the least corrupt 
to dark red the most.
The score go from zero to 100, 
100 being the most corrupt.
The US is number 22 on the list of 180
with a rating of 71 –  
a C minus in other words.
The best we’ve got in the world is Denmark with a score of 88, a B+.
And 2/3rd of the world scored under 50,
not a terrific grade.

It is easy to get cynical in this environment.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed with suspicion
about every institution and organization and system.
To say that everyone is out for number one,
so I’m going to be only out for myself too.
To keep my money, my time, and more importantly,
my heart to myself and not give anything away.

But our calling as Christians is to be like that widow,
to show stubborn hope in the face of
the corruption that is in this world.

I’m not saying that we should keep giving to corrupt churches,
or we shouldn’t pay attention to what’s happening in the world,
or that we shouldn’t keep leaders feet to the fire and demand justice
and righteousness, or that we shouldn’t be outraged by corruption.
But bowing out completely is not an option for us.

This is the only world we have, corrupt or not.
Like that widow, we are called to a different
path in spite of those who take for themselves,
those who use their power for their own gain,
In the face of corruption and greed,
we are called to live generously.
Our gifts and the devotion of our hearts
are signs of hope in a sometimes hopeless world.

It might seem like corruption and greed always
has the podium in this world.
That leaders with long robes who want the seats of
honor will always have the loudest voices
and drown everyone out.

But those scribes with long robes are long gone,
and their acts are forgotten.
And two thousand years later, we’re still honoring
that widow and her two mites.

Jesus is showing us that our small gifts,
our signs of hope will drown out the
selfishness, sin, and evil.
Our acts of generosity will not go unnoticed.

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