June 24, 2018

BE GENEROUS BECAUSE GOD IS GENEROUS

BIBLE READINGS
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Mark 5:21-43

REFLECTION

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The painting is one of the most well-known paintings in history. Many people regard it as the most beautiful painting of all time. It was painted by Michelangelo, the Italian maestro, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. I know some here who are lucky enough to see the painting with their own eyes. It is called, the Creation of Adam, and is one of the nine stories from Genesis that Michelangelo painted.

In the painting, God stretches out His arm and finger to Adam who reluctantly responds with his slumped finger. Perhaps, Michelangelo tried to say to his audience that creation was God’s initiative. God is not afraid to cross the boundary between heaven and earth to reach out to us, humans.

Our Psalm reading today is the prayer of a person who was waiting for God’s help in times of distress. Psalm 130 begins with the words, “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord (v.1 - NIV).” The psalmist was reaching out to God out of the depth of despair. He reached out to God at the lowest point of his life. Like Michelangelo, he believed that there was no boundary, no distance that God wouldn’t cross to reach out to him.

Psalm 130 is indeed a penitential Psalm. Common to penitential psalm is the theme of the great gulf that separates God from humans. God is holy and humans are sinners.

Yet, according to the author of the Psalm, there was no iniquity, no sin that could separate him from God. “God does not count or keep a record of our sins (v. 3),” he said. That’s why he waited for God to come and rescue him. He knew that God was a forgiving God (v. 4). He knew that God would never stop loving (v. 7).

Indeed, according to the Psalmist, God is always ready to redeem people from their sins (v. 7- 8). In ancient context, to redeem meant to bring one’s relative out of slavery or other difficult situation because of debt. For the Psalmist, God was like a redeemer of ancient time. God is ready to ‘buy back’ sinners to free them from a bad situation caused by their sins.[1]

We can see the embodiment of God’s boundless grace and generosity in Jesus’ life and ministry. They were particularly obvious in his acts of healing. In our reading today from Mark, Jesus crossed many boundaries to reach out to both the woman and the girl.

The woman came to Jesus suffering from an illness that made her discharge blood, most likely menstrual blood. According to the book of Leviticus, such blood would make the woman unclean ritually.[2] Anyone who came into contact with her would be unclean as well.

Even more, the woman came to Jesus directly without a male sponsor. She didn’t come to Jesus like the leader of the Synagogue who came to Jesus on behalf of his daughter. In those times, what the woman did could be considered as inappropriate.

Yet, Jesus did not condemn her for her ‘inappropriateness’. He did not scold the woman for touching his cloak either, knowing that she would make him unclean ritually. On the contrary, Jesus praised her effort and affirmed the healing that she had received because of her faith.

Jesus acted the same way in his encounter with the little girl. The girl was thought to have died and touching a dead body would make someone unclean ritually.[3]  Yet again, Jesus put aside the religious requirement so that he could help the girl.

Indeed, Jesus had to cross religious and social boundaries to be able to reach out to these women. In Jesus time, these females were considered as second-class citizens. Unlike Jairus, Peter, James, John, and Jesus himself, these females were not named in the Gospel. They were not as important as the males in the story.

Yet, Jesus still searched for the woman who touched his cloak. He did this even though the disciples told him not to worry about the incident. When other people told him that Jairus’ little girl had died, Jesus still went to see her. He ignored the mourners who laughed at him for thinking that the girl did not die, but asleep. Jesus went the extra mile to offer his healing to those in need. He did not only cross many boundaries. Jesus took risk and was prepared to be ridiculed so that he could bring healing to others.

This kind of generosity was reflected in the life of the Macedonian churches. We read it in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Paul was collecting donation from different churches for the poor people in the churches in Jerusalem.[4] Some churches had given the offering to Paul. But others, like the Corinthians, had not yet given their offering even though they had promised to do so.

To remind them, Paul used the Macedonian churches as an example in his letter. He reminded the Corinthians how the Macedonians gave in the midst of severe trial, most likely a persecution. They even gave in poverty (v. 2). The Macedonians gave not only as much as they were able to, but beyond (v. 3). Just like Jesus, the Macedonian congregations had gone the extra mile to be generous.

We may think that Paul tried to make the Corinthians feel guilty by comparing them to the Macedonians. The Macedonians, in their limitations, were generous. How much more the Corinthians, who had been blessed a lot more, should be generous. But Paul didn’t want the Corinthians to compete with the Macedonians. He wanted them to imitate Jesus who he himself was generous.

Jesus was to be the model of their generosity. No, Paul didn’t regard the Macedonians to be better than the Corinthians. He wanted both the Macedonians and the Corinthians to be like Jesus. Even though he was rich, Jesus became poor so that he could make everyone rich through his poverty (v. 9). For Paul, this was the essence of the gospel that should become the foundation for Christians of all times.

Let me tell you a story about Patricia. She was a first-year teacher who was assigned to an inner-city school in Texas, USA. Before Thanksgiving, it was the tradition in her school to run a project known as the ‘canned-food drive’. During the project, each class in her school would decorate an empty box and place it near the front of the classroom. Every day, children would come in with their non-perishable food and put them in the box. The collected food would then be delivered to the needy people in their community.

On the last day, she saw one student smiling broadly and proudly as he put a big can of food in the box. As Patricia was observing him, she realized that there was a white label on the can that he donated. She secretly looked at the letters on the label and read “Commodity Boned Chicken.” The can was one of the food that was often distributed to the needy families in the area by the government. The boy’s family must have been one of the recipients of this help from the government.

Upon reading this, tears welled up in Patricia’s eyes. She realized that the boy, and his family, had sacrificed their own much-needed meal. They did that so that they could support other families. In their poverty, they still wanted to have a share in the act of giving to someone else in need.

There is a saying, “Give until it hurts.” Let me challenge you to go the extra mile and say, “Give even though it hurts.” True giving is indeed a sacrifice. There is a part of us that we lose when we give genuinely. Indeed, when we truly give, we do not only give whatever it is that we give. When we truly give, we give our very selves, first and foremost. But if we want to follow Jesus in his footsteps, then we are to be ready to be generous. We are to be ready to give just like he had given sacrificially for our sake.

Amen.
Toby Keva

[1] Jerome Creach, Commentary on Psalm 130, on www.workingpreacher.org (April 10, 2011)
[2] Leviticus 15:19-30
[3] Numbers 19:11-16
[4] Romans 15: 25-27