No Mercy is Worthless
Luke 20:41 – 21:4
Leo the Great: Although the spite of some people does not grow gentle with any kindness, nevertheless the works of mercy are not fruitless, and kindness never loses what is offered to the ungrateful. May no one, dearly beloved, make themselves strangers to good works. Let no one claim that his poverty scarcely sufficed for himself and could not help another. What is offered from a little is great, and in the scale of divine justice, the quantity of gifts is not measured but the steadfastness of souls. The “widow” in the Gospel put two coins into the “treasury,” and this surpassed the gifts of all the rich. No mercy is worthless before God. No compassion is fruitless. He has given different resources to human beings, but he does not ask different affections.
I am tempted to let Leo the Great’s words suffice for they are beautifully and poignantly expressed. This morning I was reading A Christmas Carol by Dickens. The two men collecting money for the poor introduced themselves and their errand to Scrooge, at which time they were immediately and ungraciously rebuffed with his contempt and disdain for others. Here was a man who could have financially helped everyone within his sphere yet closed his heart to them. (Of course, we know the rest of the story and what can happen to a person whose heart is reborn and reopened by grace.)
Yet the people Jesus describes in today’s Scripture are those who can give much and do so. It’s not that they were wrong to give. But they were giving out of their abundance and thus their offering was not sacrificial. The poor widow, who probably should have been the recipient of the temple treasury’s provision for the poor, gave out of her impoverished condition. Hers, according to Jesus, was the sacrificial gift that is dear to our Father’s heart.
Whether we are giving money or our time and talent, God calls us to be living sacrifices, which is our acceptable service to the Lord (Romans 12:1). It shows our commitment to God to be sure. But it also reveals a deep dependence upon him as well. For if we give what we will not miss, or do that which costs us nothing, we are not living sacrificial lives.
Let me hasten to add that we don’t live this sort of life in order to be saved. If we are Christians, then we have already been saved by God’s grace alone, received by faith in Christ alone. This is no meritorious system. This is fruit. What else would a life redeemed and reconciled by a gracious God do?
The other word for us here is not to compare how much we give to any other person. As the old saying goes, comparison is death to contentment. The widow gave numerically less than the others yet gave more because it was all she had. That’s how God’s Kingdom economy works. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, the person who increased the two talents he was given to four, received the same praise as the one who doubled his five talents to ten. Each was given a particular number of talents. Each was faithful with what he was given. Each received the same praise from his master.
Whether you are rich or poor, gifted with many talents or few, you are called to give out of what the Lord has provided you. If you have more, give more. If you have little, give what you can from that. Leo was surely correct when he said, “What is offered from a little is great, and in the scale of divine justice, the quantity of gifts is not measured but the steadfastness of souls.” Let the steadfastness of your soul be enlarged, like the widow’s in our Scripture, or like the soul of Ebeneezer Scrooge himself. Not because you have to, as our senior pastor likes to put it, but because you get to. Yet let this paraphrased divine caveat be inserted here: “to the person who has been given much, much is expected (Luke 12:48). Let the recipients of such gifts rejoice at the opportunities that await.
Thanks be to God.
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