A while back, I noticed that my mom had been donating to a charity for the veterans. She is very grateful for the service men and women that protect this country and defends our “rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” She believed she was donating to a good cause. Of course, the veterans deserve to be well taken care of.
Feeling cynical about the unfamiliar name of the charity she donated to, I went on the CherityNavigator.com to check out the organization and found out that it was poorly rated, so I discouraged her from continuing giving to that organization and asked her to be cautious with responding to the donation requests. I am sure we all receive calls and letters asking for donations frequently. It’s sad to see many fake charitable organizations preying on the unsuspecting elderly population.
As generous Americans, we all want to donate to the good causes, but at the same time, we often heard in the news about some organizations, and even churches, embezzle the donations. News like this makes us cynical and destroys our spirit of generosity.
This is not just a problem of our days. It has been a problem since the first century, Jesus time. So, let’s look at what Jesus says about chrity abuse.
In Mark 12.38-44, Jesus talks about the corruption of the scribes. Scribes were highly regarded religious leaders in those days because of their knowledge of the Torah. They are also called lawyers because their main job is to interpret the law of God. Therefore, they were highly educated and part of the elites in the first century. So, when Jesus made that statement, “Beware of the scribes…” it was a shocking statement for anyone who heard it because few people dare to criticize the authority such as the scribes.
Mark 12:38–40 NRSV
As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
There is one clause that that sticks out in his statement, “They devour widows’ houses.” That was a serious accusation. Did Jesus have any proof? Otherwise, it would be slander. The widows and the orphans had a special place in God’s compassion and justice. God’s law seriously emphasized God’s heart for these powerless people in society.
If there was anyone in the society that knew that God cares so deeply about the widows and orphans, it should have been the scribes. If there was anyone in the society called to defend the rights of the widows and orphans, it should have been the scribes.
Here, those who were supposed to be the stewards of justice were extorting the widows. It is reprehensible. Jesus even predicted the judgment, “They will receive the greater condemnation.” If we use a Chinese expression, those who extort the widows would be burned at the bottom of the 18th level of hell. According to the Chinese urban legends, there are 18 levels of hell below the earth.
But what evidence did Jesus have to prove that his accusation was true? It is easy to take potshots at the authorities, and the opposition party, just like many in our culture do, but how is what Jesus is saying not mere gossip or slander? The next passage shows how he saw the situation.
Mark 12:41–44 NRSV
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Most of the time when we read this passage, we only look at it at a superficial level thinking that Jesus was praising this widow for her generosity because he said she gave proportionately more than the rich people did, which is true. However, if you look at the context, Jesus was saying more than that.
Even though it was just a penny—even though the scribes might even find it an annoyance to tally up these lose changes—it was all she had to live on. But I think the heart of Jesus was weeping as he said those words, “She out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on. Yet this money will be wasted by the corrupt religious leaders.”
This passage is not just about a lesson on generosity, but it’s Jesus’ lament on the spiritual bankruptcy of the religious leaders at that time. Obviously, after two thousand years, we still see such things. The media loves to report on the corruption of the religious organizations. We’ve all heard about the abuse of children by some perverted Catholic priests. I am sure Jesus would say there is a special place for them in hell.
News like this makes us cynical. When cynicism goes too far, it can affect our sanity. How can we prevent our sanity from being corrupted by the injustice in society? This is why we need the stewardship of sanity.
Last week, I mentioned that we live in a fallen world, a sea of suffering. One of the questions is, “How can we preserve our sanity in this stormy sea of suffering?” There are three things we can do to maintain our sanity.
1. Understand that Life is not About Me but about God
I believe the secret of stewarding our sanity is to understand that “life is not about me but about God.” It’s a hard pill to swallow but it’s the reality, and it preserves our sanity if we get it.
Look at the two types of people Jesus was talking about here: the scribes that behave as if life is all about them, and the widow that behaves as if life is all about God. What a contrast.
Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!” It’s all about themselves.
But for the widow, it’s all about God. Jesus said, “she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” We don’t know what the occasion that prompted the widow to give so generously that she gave everything she had was. The point here is that she lives as if life is all about God, not about her.
If we can live this first principle one alone, it can set our life free from all kinds of stresses in this stormy sea of suffering. It will keep us sane. Try it, whenever you get stressed out, say this out loud, “life is not about me, but it’s about God” and see your stress fade away and your mood change from negative to positive.
The second element of the stewardship of sanity is that we must …
2. Realize that God is Watching
When we live as if life is about me, we fail to realize that God is watching us. It reminds me of Bette Midler’s inspiring song, God Is Watching Us From a Distance.
Jesus often accused the scribes and Pharisees of not believing in God. Here is why. If they did belong to God, they wouldn’t be so self-absorbed that they sought people’s approval and wanted to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces.
Some people might praise the scribes for their shrewdness, and sneer at the widow for being so stupid as to be taken in by the corrupt system, but God is watching. God is watching both the perpetrator and the victim. God is watching both the scribes and the widow.
Just like Beth Midler sings about, “God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us from a distance!”
The third element of the stewardship of sanity is to …
3. Believe in the Good News
Underneath this story is the message of “God sees, God knows, and God is going to bring justice.” Jesus is not sitting there lamenting about the plight of the widow and the injustice of this fallen world and plan to do nothing about it. Some people see the hypocrisy of the organized religion but refuse to do anything about it but just sit outside and criticize. Then they take potshots at the poor that are duped by the charlatans in the church leadership.
Jesus, however, laments the corruption of religion, but he laid down his life to restore its glory. This is the spirit of reformation.
This is also a message of encouragement to the faithful to not to lose heart and not to let the current of the sea of suffering pull your sanity down. It’s a message of hope. Believe in the good news because only the truth can set you free.
Here are the three things you need to do to steward your sanity.
- Understand that Life is not About Me but About God
- Realize that God is Watching
- Believe in the Good News
Until next time, keep cultivating a fruitful life. Amen!