More Lace, More Grace
#MoreLaceMoreGrace is the podcast for November 11, 2018. What does it mean to love God? What do fancy dressers and begging widows have to show us? Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Mark12 #Mark #Money #FirstCommandment #LoveofGod #Homeless #Pennies #LongRobes
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 11/11/2018 The 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Mark 12:28-34.
Today as I stand before you in my alb and chasuble, I am supposed to warn you against guys with long flowing robes. Indeed, I have known men in seminary who believed that being a priest, or in the case of the Gospel, a scribe or Pharisee, is about the regalia. In fact, one seminary brother used to say tongue in cheek, “more lace, more grace.” Yuk.
It is true, that among all the holy men that I knew in seminary, there were those who were more about the status, the rectory, the ornamented chalices, the deference due them, the using their position of trust to get widows to donate huge sums to the church so they could live well, and the list goes on. Scripture Scholar Fred Craddock remarked in his commentary on this passage, “Places of honor tend to attract persons who are not honorable.” (PTCY, B, 465).
As happens when scripture comes around in the three year cycle of the common lectionary, I get homily illustrations in my conversations in that week. It is no different this week. Three people asked me about why I wear a black shirt with the tab collar. Interestingly enough, the black shirt and the so called “tab collar” are worn as a renunciation of secularism by rejecting secular dress. Black is worn to reject the connection between colorful clothes and wealth. Those who get to choose which colors they wear have wealth. Black is worn as a symbol of the rejection of privilege and the embrace of service.
When my doctor, who is Jewish, asked me why I wore the little white tab collar, I simply said, “It is an embrace of the yoke of obedience to Christ.” It should not surprise us that Jesus is talking about the rejection of status, etc. just after he talks about the First Commandment, to love God. I will return to this in a moment.
The long robes that I wear on Sundays are to serve as a connection. The alb is a garment that covers my clothing so that anyone who wears it during worship does not show off their “finery”, but instead looks like everyone else who is leading. The “chasuble”, which overlays my robe, is an apron to celebrate the Eucharist. The one who wears the chasuble is the one who will preside at the Holy Table, where Jesus brings heaven down to meet us on earth. It is a visual reminder of how the priests are told to dress in Leviticus 8 as they entered the Tent of Meeting, the holy place where God meets humanity. The garb is also a reminder of the holy ones we read about on All Saints from Revelation 7. They are the ones who gave their lives for Christ.
All of these visual reminders are also to be tied to humility. Humility of dress, humility of material wealth, humility of anything that might keep us from keeping the First and Greatest Commandment: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Yet, what we see with the scribes and the Pharisees, we often see today: priests who live in large rectories, pastors who drive expensive cars, etc., etc. The visual message is: God is not my first love. As Jesus says, this cannot be.
Now to contrast this, to drive the message home, Jesus sits in the Temple watching people put their offerings into the offering box. Many come and put in large sums that do not dent their standard of living. They give to God, but it is out of a sense of security: I will take care of me first and then I will take care of God.
In the midst of these givers of gifts that do not hurt, do not sacrifice, there comes a widow. I picture her as a frail little woman, bent over, a shawl on her shoulders. This is all in my head, not in the Gospel. Yet, a widow was a person who had a precarious life. She relied on the wealth of her husband to live. When he is out of the picture, then she had nothing. She had to rely upon her sons, if she had any. Yet, widows would often be relegated to begging for sustenance. So, they are awesome teaching tools. They had nothing. So, to conserve their livelihood might seem the order of the day: take care of myself first and then give to God.
So, in the midst of these people coming forward in a line in their finery, their robes, is a small widow with two lepta, or the smallest available coinage. For us, it would be two pennies. It is hardly anything to use, but to someone who gathers the pennies to buy a “crust of bread”, any money is a big deal. I remember, as a kid, going to Chicago for the first time and seeing one homeless guy pick up and turn over another homeless man and shake him. When coins fell out of the helpless homeless man’s pockets, the other raced to gather the coins that hit the sidewalk. Then he ran like he had a fortune in his hands. This is the same as the widow’s offering.
She was saying a lot through her actions. She was saying that she loved God more than money, money she needed to survive. So, we could gather that she loved God more than survival. She loved God enough to trust him for her “next”, next meal, next lodging, next breathing space, next secure moment.
The contrast between the widows who have nothing and the religious authorities walking around in robes seeking status could not be more jarring. The widow gives her last bit, her everything. The others give enough for people to know how much they gave.
One of the wives of a deacon in our church tells a story about how they went to a mission and heard someone preach. As they were preaching, he whispered, “take out the checkbook and write a check.” “How much?” she said. He said, “$75 dollars.” She said, “That is all we have.” He said, “I know.” She laughs today because they are doing better than well, but she said at the time it was so hard to trust that God would take care of them. They did. He did.
There is no issue in our lives of love and devotion to God that holds us back more than our attitudes about money. We do not even realize that holding on to our money with a steely grip does not give us security. Loving God and others gives us security.
It is no accident that shortly after Jesus is reported to tell us about the importance of loving God that we have this contrast: those who love to God to be loved (Scribes and Pharisees) and those who love God to love God (Widow with nothing). How we live, how we dress, how we offer ourselves, how we view money, how we understand prestige, how we view privilege, are all visual enactments of where our hearts lie.
So, as I stand before you in a long robe, I am warning you against guys in long robes who teach you to love God through sacrifice, but are not willing to do it themselves. More than that warning, I am asking all of us to ask a simple question: Do I love God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength? Do I really? The widow teaches us how. Amen.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian