“How terrible it will be for you blind guides who say, ‘If people swear by the temple, it’s nothing. But if people swear by the gold in the temple, they are obligated to do what they swore.’ You foolish and blind people! Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold holy? You say, ‘If people swear by the altar, it’s nothing. But if they swear by the gift on the altar, they are obligated to do what they swore.’ You blind people! Which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift holy? Therefore, those who swear by the altar swear by it and by everything that’s on it. Those who swear by the temple swear by it and by everything that’s part of it. Those who swear by heaven swear by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it (Matthew 23:16-22, Common English Bible).
I’m not sure exactly why but as I read today’s lesson my mind went back more than 25 years. I was just beginning in ministry. Perhaps it was when I went to licensing school (a short school the United Methodist Church requires of new pastors who are not yet ordained nor have completed seminary) or at Course of Study School (a five year abbreviated summer seminary program for second career pastors, I completed three of the five years) or it could have been somewhere else, I remember hearing someone say, “Never, ever place empty offering plates on the altar table.” I don’t remember who said it nor do I remember the reasons they gave for not doing so.
Shortly after that, I tried really hard to make sure the offering plates were never left on the altar table in empty. At some point on the journey, I got frustrated with the idea. It seemed like every time I would take the plates off the altar someone else would move them back. It was a never-ending, frustrating battle of futility.
I remember one-day thinking and asking myself the question, “Am I being a Pharisee about this? What possible difference does it make if anything is in the offering plates or not? What is in the plates doesn’t even matter except that those represent the gifts of the people to God and the work of God.”
Jesus reminds us in today’s lesson that it isn’t the offering plates. It isn’t even the offering itself. I don’t event think it is so much the altar table. As I read this lesson what seemed to jump off the screen at me was the last sentence of the lesson. “Those who swear by heaven swear by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”
It is not the gift, though our gifts should be offerings from the heart out of thanksgiving to God for all God does for us. It isn’t the vessel that holds the offerings. It isn’t the table where the offerings rest. Each does have a place of significance but what is really important is that which makes each element holy, the one who sits on the throne. God makes our places of worship and all that is in them holy. All the other things are items we place there. God brings the holiness that is part of our places of worship. An empty offering plate isn’t holy, but neither is a full one. What makes the offering holy is God’s blessing.
How does God bless you by what you place in an offering plate or on an altar?
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Joy and Thanksgiving,
Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved