New Perspectives on the Way of the Cross | February 21 to March 20

Daily Devotional August 25 2021

Psalm 119:1-24; 1 Kings 3:1-15; Acts 27:9-26; Mark 14:1-11
A snarky and slightly inebriated friend once snarled at me over drinks and chicken wings that my whole faith was misplaced because ‘think of all the hungry peasants who could have been fed instead of building Notre Dame.’ I pointed out that the building of Notre Dame, and all those other ‘useless wastes of resources called churches’ through the centuries had actually gainfully employed many a hungry peasant. The retort was swift. ‘Sure, of course you’d say that: your Jesus was willing to waste all that money on ointment for his feet. The poor you have with you always indeed! The church should be eliminating poverty, not glorifying it.’ My response, that he was in a peculiar position to criticize given that he was going into corporate law instead of running soup kitchens, threatened to unhinge our friendship entirely, but things were saved by judiciously calling for the waiter to refill his glass.
It’s a bit churlish, isn’t it, to complain that other people give gifts to third parties? It would be like me moaning that a young man in love shouldn’t buy his gal a diamond, but instead should give the money to save the rain forest. Because it’s completely possible to do two things at once, to walk and chew gum, to give gifts and also to do good deeds. Generous people tend to be generous not merely to those close to them, but to the world around them. The fly in the ointment…erm, the flaw in the argument…is that it presumes zero sum reality. It presumes that the nard is the only gift the woman ever gave to anyone, that the people who paid for Notre Dame didn’t ever hand a beggar a crust of bread because their budget for donations had been met by that stained glass, that the young man with the ring never ever writes a check to environmental charities.
But that’s not really accurate, is it? Philanthropy Roundtable, a reputable online source, cited several studies in 2019 that found that religious people give (roughly) 5 times as much to charities as non-religious people, in addition to volunteering roughly twice as often. Of course, a lot of that giving and volunteering goes to build cathedrals and teach Sunday school and pay clergy–and thanks very much for that, by the way.
Religious organizations also run most of America’s homeless shelters, 1/3 of all hospitals and nursing homes, schools, refugee resettlement programs, etc etc. Carthage would certainly be a much different town if the Episcopalians hadn’t built a nursing home and founded the homeless shelter, if the Catholics didn’t run a school and our local hospital, if the Salvation Army never opened its doors for free lunch. And even if all of that is ignored, religious people still give more to non-religious charities, on average, than do non-religious people. It is possible for two things to be true at the same time: it’s possible to waste money on precious nard and cathedrals and still feed the hungry and host AA meetings in your undercroft.
Which is my way of saying, to whoever the mysterious woman is, that I applaud her generosity. But I’m pretty sure it’s only one small part of a life lived generously to everyone around her.
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Steven Wilson

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Grace Church is the oldest Episcopal parish in the four states area.
Rooted in worship of the Risen Christ, we draw our understanding of His commandment to love one another from Holy Scripture, reason and tradition—and we encourage our membership actively to seek a deeper personal relationship with Christ, a relationship founded in love of God and of neighbor.

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