How can we give God our all?
Many years ago when our children were little, we said nighttime prayers together. One evening, our then 3 year old daughter asked if she could pray the “Our Father” out loud, alone. She began, “Our Father who art in heaven, have a piece of cake.” Of course we all thought that was adorable. A few years later, as we humorously recalled the moment together and she explained, “Well, maybe I was thinking that God deserves the ‘cake’ of our lives, you know, the really good stuff.” Hmmmm, giving God the good stuff, right from the top?
I seem to always recall the ‘cake’ memory whenever I read our first reading today. In 1 Kings 17:10-16 Elijah asks the widow who is on the verge of death from starvation to share the last little bit of her food supply. The prophet asks the widow to not be afraid and reminds her of the ever-present promises of God’s love and care. In that moment, the widow chooses to trust in the prophet and, according to the last verse, “The flour jar did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.” In this sacred text, the widow is held up as an example of highest faith and trust in God’s promises. The widow trusts the promises of God to give Elijah the really good stuff that would have kept her alive.
Whenever we hear a widow story in either the Old or the New Testament, we may want to take notice. That usually means something big is about to go down – either a miracle or some other significant teachable moment. Both scripture readings today use the widow - one of the absolute lowest members of society. Scripture continually reminds us over and over again that the things that are of importance in this world – our earthen vessels – are of absolutely no value in the kingdom of God. And our Gospel affirms that as well.
Our Gospel of Mark also takes one of the lowest, most marginalized members of society, and places her in a place of honor, respect, and esteem. Because she too, gives God the “good stuff.”
While many saw the wealthy giving so very much, Jesus’ eyes are opened to what everyone else did not see: a poor widow, who gives God the good stuff right off of the top. The widow has decided that her money, what little of it she had, belonged to God. This text, then, consistent with Mark's overall agenda, is about perspective and reevaluation. Jesus was taking time to see that those who give God their excess, the leftovers, are not of the kingdom and challenges us today to see structures of injustice and inequity today. Those things that are valued in the kingdom of God differ from that in wider society.
If we were to apply this principle, rather than the specifics, to economics, we might find this text extremely challenging. “Pay yourself first,” after all is one of the first rules in saving and investing. But Jesus very clearly tells us to turn that concept upside down. When it comes to our lives, how we spend our time, what we pay attention to, where we spend our money, how we invest, which charities to donate to, do we give to God our best? Do we even think of God first? Or does God get our stale, exhausted left overs? True freedom and joy can be cultivated when living the Gospel – but it takes consistent prayer, practice, and commitment (and re-commitment).
Going back to my daughter’s “cake” prayer, it is easy to list our priorities, but actions speak louder than words. What would that mean if we gave God our very best in just one area this week? What if we made God the priority in a way we hadn’t before? The message of Jesus is simple, “Love God and Love your neighbor.” God deserves our best. God deserves our “cake.”
Susan Switalski, Pastoral Minister