“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.’
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.’”
My greatest insecurity is that I don’t believe “right,” that I don’t have enough faith. I know that God isn’t up “there” with a scale or a giant chart, tallying all the good things I do and measuring them against all the bad things I do. But I cannot stop the cash register, the faith checking account that says “insufficient funds.” I come up short in the economy of faith every day. And I’m reminded of my poverty every time I step on my seminary’s campus, every time I long to be friends with someone more “conservative” than I am, every time I have to cross my fingers during the creeds at church. I try to find hope that my church is “a reformed church, always reforming,” but I still may never have enough coins of faith to get me through the doors, no matter how much they discount the admission fees.
But after the birth of my son, I can’t help but wonder whether or not this “economy of faith” is what Jesus talks about at all.
Just last week we had the raising of Lazarus as our Gospel Reading. Martha stops him from entering Lazarus’s tomb because of the smell of a decaying body, and Jesus says, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” He sees Martha’s lack of faith, and raises Lazarus anyway.
Another favorite: The father of a boy who is possessed by a spirit, comes to Jesus and says, “if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” And Jesus says to him, “If you are able! – All things can be done for the one who believes.” And the father cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Perhaps, Jesus comes not just to reward those who believe, but to help those who don’t.
When Jesus asks the paralyzed man at the pool, “do you want to be made well?” the man answers him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” The paralyzed man doesn’t answer his question, doesn’t say, “Yes! And YOU can do it!” No, the man begins to whine, to give excuses as to why he hasn’t yet been healed – hardly an example of ideal faith.
Jesus heals the paralyzed man who is lowered through the roof by his friends, for “when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” It’s not the faith of the paralytic that heals him; instead, the faith of his friends is recognized by Jesus.
And even Jesus’ closest friends don’t understand his teachings. They don’t recognize him after his crucifixion. Thomas is famous for his struggle to believe.
For instance, when Jesus calms the storm, Jesus rebukes the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
And when Peter, walking on the water, begins to sink, Jesus says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
The people in the Gospels who suffer from the poverty of belief are many, some notable, future leaders, others, simple, desperate.
We pray the “Our Father.” We often think of God as the perfect parent.
Would I love my son any less if he didn’t believe I existed?
Do I love my son less because he doesn’t really know me?
When he cries out to me in his hunger, do I make him profess that there really is milk before I nurse him?
The story of the woman with the two copper coins can be about how God can make small things great, or about how God can create greatness where there is none. It can be a story of the mustard seed, that when planted, yields great fruit. But for me, today, this story is about how God’s economy is not our economy. Contrary to what many CEOs and conservatives might argue, God is not a capitalist. There is no exchange of goods when we enter into a relationship with God. I used to think that one had to believe “right,” to “profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior” in order to be “saved.” But that is only continuing with the language of an exchange of goods. “God, I give You my belief, if You’ll give me salvation” (or security, or money, or whatever) – a quid pro quo.
Some people come before God with shopping bags full of faith. And oh, how I envy them. They are rich in belief; they live in mansions of security and assurance and closeness to God. But I am so grateful that there are those stories of people who come to God with empty paper bags, and God heals them anyway. Jesus invites us, even in the poverty of our doubt. He says, “Take up your mat and walk.” He says, “Come here, touch my side, feel the wounds in my hands, experience me, even in your doubt.”
Simone Weil: “We must only wait and call out. Not call upon someone, while we still do not know if there is anyone; but cry out that we are hungry and want bread. Whether we cry for a long time or a short time, in the end we shall be fed, and then we shall not believe but we shall know that there really is bread. What surer proof could one ask for than to have eaten it? But before one has eaten, it is neither need for nor particularly useful to believe in bread. What is essential is to know that one is hungry…”
And really, the bag is not empty. God just counts with different currency. The faith is there because the hunger is there. It’s there when I doubt and struggle and worry. Faith is like the air we breathe. And our faith is there because we need to breathe. When it is there, and we realize it, we are grateful. But when we don’t, we still keep breathing.