Last week, I arrived at the Church day to find 8 great big bags of apples at the door. Some kind person had clearly donated them! So, first I had to move them to some more suitable place, back and forth carrying the bags, and then go and buy some plastic bags at the shop, so people would have something in which to take them away. My one hope, as I trotted around doing these tasks, was that, given the glut of apples in so many gardens this Autumn, no one else would have the same idea, and turn the Church into an apple depository!
I have a feeling however, that if I told this person that the Church is not really a free apple distribution centre, he or she would say “But surely the Church should be helping the poor?” To which I would say, “Yes, but the Church is not an organisation to do your work for you. You are the Church. You are the person who should have organised the distribution, perhaps by putting them out on the roadside, as some people do, or taking them to a Food Bank.”
I tell you this story, the story of the apples, because too often, the Gospel we heard today, of Jesus praising the poor widow who put two small coins in the Temple collecting box, (Mark 12:38-44) is seen as an opportunity for everyone to be encouraged to give more… to the Church. But actually that’s not what the story is about at all. For, yes, it is good that people are generous in their giving to the Church. But if they see The Church to which they give some of their money, as an organisation, an organisation that puts on worship for them, who provides them with a priest from some magic pot of men, an organisation that does good deeds on their behalf for others; then they have entirely missed the point. The Church may be seen by some, especially by the Media and those outside the Church, as that large organisation with a Head Office in Rome, but you and I know that this is not really what the Church is at all. We may be glad when Pope Francis sets such a good example for us, but we are also all too aware of The Vatican’s many imperfections now and down through the ages. Indeed, if that organisation, based in the Vatican, with all its human faults and failings, is really what the Church is, I tell you, I am giving it all up now!
No, the point I have already made, I must make again. You and I, WE ARE THE CHURCH, and so it is we who have to decide prayerfully what to do with the money we earn, and how to use all our other possessions to the glory of God. The poor widow is praised, not for those two insignificant coins, but for her attitude to life, her approach to God : the fact that she was prepared to give her all, her whole life, to God. That is surely why our 1st Reading today (1 Kings 17:10-16) is about another widow, who gave food and drink to the prophet Elijah, when she and her son were about to eat their last meal, all they had left, before they died of starvation.
I was struck last week, when they reported the statistics about the beliefs of people in the UK about God and Jesus and the Church. I wonder if you heard it or read about it? I was shocked that 40% of people thought Jesus was NOT a real person! But I was also intrigued that so many people, who knew a practising Christian, admired that person for their kindness and generosity. And who is that person admired for their kindness and generosity? That person is us, the Church of the real man Jesus Christ, the Church met today to do what he asked us to do the night before he was arrested and killed; to pray together and to break bread together, and to know that when we do so, he is with us in a special way, inspiring us to bring his message of love and sacrifice to the world.
Thus we come to our 2nd Reading (Hebrews 9:24-28) where the contrast is made between ordinary high priests, who have to offer sacrifices again and again to please God, and Jesus, the true High Priest who “offers himself only once to take the faults of many…… and to reward with salvation those who are waiting for him.” Here at Mass, we do not offer new worship again and again, but enter into that one sacrifice, the action of Christ himself. All that we do therefore, as his Church, is based not on our own efforts, feeble and imperfect as they are, but on in his presence empowering us.
As one of our parishioners said at the Bible Study we have here every Monday at 10.30am. “The fact that we can only do so little, is no excuse for doing nothing.” And why? Because it is Christ who works in us, and like the boy with the 2 loaves, can turn something little into something great. If we let him.