Most of you know that father was a Methodist minister. One of my favorite children’s sermons he gave was about an apple. He gathered us all around and he had an apple and a carving knife. He said that the apple represented all the money that our families had. Then he asked us what were all the things that our family needed that we had to spend our money on. We all shouted out our answers: clothes, food, our houses, cars. With each answer, he cut out a chunk of the apple. When were down to about 1/3 of the apple, he invited us to answer what else we spend our money on. We had answers for that too: toys, games, vacation, movies. By the time we finished, there was nothing left of the apple.
Suddenly, my father gasped. “Oh, no! We forgot something. We forgot to give some of our money to God!” There was good news though. My dad had another apple. He suggested we try to do things a little differently this time. “How about we give some of our money…say 10%…to God? Okay?” Then we carved out all those things we need. Then we still had a little left for all the stuff we like – maybe not as much, but there was still some there.
Thirty years later, I think the point of his children’s sermon was that if we start by returning some of our wealth to God, we’ll have plenty for everything else. But as I was thinking about that apple this week, something else occurred to me. That apple – that apple that represents “our” money that we get to choose how to divvy up – is not really ours. That apple actually belongs to God entirely. We have money because we work for it, right? But how do we get jobs in the first place? We could argue that we have jobs because we worked hard to get there, or we went to school. But in Eucharistic Prayer C, one of the things we say is that God blessed us with “memory, reason, and skill.” So yes, we work hard, but we are able to do that work through the blessings of God. God blesses us with abilities and talents. God blesses us with good health and a sense of forbearance. God blesses us with shelter, food, and clothing so that we can rest, build up strength, and fit in socially at work. God blesses us with support systems, like friends, neighbors, and family who help us stay emotionally stable enough to do the work God has given us to do. All that money that is “ours” that we “earn” on our own is not really ours when we are honest.
Now, no one is more uncomfortable with this notion than me. When I was growing up people always said I was smart, but I always insisted that it was because I was a hard worker. Nothing came easy to me and I worked for everything I got. So imagine my discomfort when I had to think about my apple – all my income – and realize I didn’t have that apple because I worked hard to earn that apple. I had that apple because God blessed me with all the things I needed to be able to work hard and earn. When I insist that I should get to choose who gets what slices of my apple, I get lost in a sense of entitlement instead of gratitude about where the apple comes from in the first place.
The sons of Zebedee had the same struggle with a sense of entitlement. In fact, the sons of Zebedee sound almost impish today. “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” They try to manipulate Jesus into the answer they want before they even ask us the question. “Jesus, promise us you’ll do this one, tiny little favor.” And then they ask a most ludicrous question – to be at Jesus’ right and left hand in his glory. In essence, they want the most favored spots in the kingdom of God. Jesus chides them, “You do not know what you are asking.” The other disciples are enraged – either because they think the Zebedee brothers are being selfish, or because they are mad that they didn’t think of the idea first.
But at the heart of their request is something bigger – a sense of entitlement.[i] Their question indicates that they think they are owed such a privilege. And maybe in their eyes they were owed. They left everything to follow Jesus. Jesus keeps talking about how they are going to suffer anyway, so they want some guaranteed reward for that suffering. And they have already proven themselves – look at how loyal they are to Jesus and the cause. Their request is not just a reward – they earned those places of honor.
But what Jesus does today is what he always does – he turns everything upside down. The Zebedee boys will be honored – but not with cushy titles or offices. They will be honored by enduring the same suffering – sharing in Christ’s cup – that Jesus endures. Honor, Jesus explains, does not come from earning and amassing wealth. Honor comes from serving others – from emptying ourselves of wealth and serving others.
This week, I was reading an article about a couple who lives on 6.25% of their income.[ii] They earn just under $245,000 a year, and yet they live on just over $15,000. They give about $100,000 to charity. And not just this year, but every year since 2008. Now, I don’t know whether this couple is Christian, but I tell you what they do seem to understand – that apple isn’t fully theirs either. And in fact, giving about 40% of their apple away has brought them a sense of freedom and joy that is hard to find elsewhere.
In these weeks of discernment about your giving to St. Margaret’s, I invite you to consider your own relationship with your wealth – with your apple. I am not suggesting you need to give 40% of your apple to the Church – though I also would not stop you. But what I am inviting you to consider is how God – God the Giver – gifted you with that apple. I am inviting you not just to consider the wealth that the apple represents, but also all the other blessings that even enable you to possess the apple. My guess is that the more you pray on those blessings, the more and more overwhelmed you will become about the abundance God has showered upon you. Sit in that spiritual space of being overwhelmed by God’s abundance this week and listen for how the Spirit is calling you to use your apple. Amen.
[i] Stephen B. Chapman, “Sons of Entitlement,” Christian Century, vol. 123, no. 21, October 17, 2006, 20.
[ii] William MacAskill, “Giving to Receive,” October 9, 2015 as found at http://qz.com/515655/this-couple-lives-on-6-of-their-income-so-they-can-give-100000-a-year-to-charity/ on October 14, 2015.