Founded in 1693, the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia—my alma mater—is the second - oldest college in the United States after Harvard. Like Harvard, William and Mary was founded for explicitly Christian purposes: The Royal Charter listed the training of "ministers of the gospel" and the propagation of the Christian faith among the "western Indians" among the school's founding purposes.
Not surprisingly, given the school's history, one of the oldest buildings on campus is the chapel, designed by Sir Christopher Wren who also designed St. Paul's Cathedral in London. On the altar stood a gold cross that was donated to the school by the nearby historic Bruton Parish church in the 1930s.
I say "stood" because in October, William and Mary President Gene R. Nichol ordered that the cross be removed from the altar. His goal was to "make the Wren Chapel less of a faith-specific" place and to "make it more welcoming" to people of "all faiths."
As you probably guessed, Nichol could not cite a specific instance of non-Christians being made to feel unwelcome by the presence of the cross...
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. (So Mark reports in chapter 12.) It was a scene made for good people-watching. Perhaps there were some who made a spectacle of their giving. Others gave in guilt or joy or obligation. Many rich people threw in large amounts. A poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. The motives of giving are many, as are the people who give.
It is the season of charity and it is celebrated by millions. In a Wall Street Journal article titled "Charitable Explanation," Arthur Brooks examines giving in America and its patterns among us. In the month of December, as much as a third of the quarter-trillion dollars Americans give away each year is collected. Eighty-five million Americans participate.
Even so, giving is not a collective national trait. "While 85 million American households give away money each year to nonprofit organizations," notes Brooks "another 30 million do not."(1) There is a Giving America and Non-Giving America, he says. And what distinguishes them is not income. In fact, he reports, "America's working poor give away at least as large a percentage of their incomes as the rich, and a lot more than the middle class. The charity gap is driven not by economics but by values." Giving is apparently a matter of perspective.
In the middle of his people-watching at the temple treasury, Jesus called his disciples to the scene in front him: a widow had dropped in two copper coins as she passed by the treasury, and it caught the eye of the teacher. Sandwiched between the generous gifts of the affluent, her coins would perhaps not have drawn the attention of anyone else. But Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on" (Mark 12:43-44).
What is it that motivates a woman to give when it is so rational to save? What is it that moves us to reach toward the family that is lost in medical bills or the one who has lost her job? If we are merely products of time and chance, programmed for survival of the fittest, why would we give at all? Arthur Brooks offers one more statistic: "Americans who weekly attend a house of worship are 25 percentage points more likely to give than people who go to church rarely or never. These religious folks also give nearly four times more dollars per year than secularists, on average, and volunteer more than twice as frequently."
When Jesus said that we would always have the poor with us, I don't think he said it with the kind of despair I sometimes find within me when I look around and see how vast is the need of a hurting world. I don't think he said it to make us feel guilty or to remind us that there are always others less fortunate than us. I think he said it knowing every face in the immense crowd of nobodiness, knowing every name we might not learn when the pain of others becomes unbearable. He said it living in time and yet conscious of eternity, showing us the perspective he longed for us to hold: We give because we are made in the image of one who has given us everything.
Reasons to give will always be surrounding us; and where we will allow ourselves to see, it will be overwhelming. The oppressed and the brokenhearted will continue to call us from our comfortable apathy and languid affluence, just as Christ himself calls us to set aside all that entangles and follow after him. The poor and the downcast are in need of hope and justice; they need mercy, and they need our time, even as Jesus seems to tell us that it is we who need their time: "The poor you will always have with you." And he said as if it were a promise that he, too, would be near. He spoke knowing that throughout most of history the Son of God would not be with us in the flesh. But in the cup of cold water delivered to the least of these, in the reaching out to our neighbors, in the giving to others because God has given to us, he is there among us. He is with the hand extended to the one hurting; he is behind the eyes of the one in need--dispelling the notion of nobodiness two faces at a time.
Jill Carattini is senior associate writer at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Arthur Brooks, "Charitable Explanation," Wall Street Journal (November 27, 2006).
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I only had 24 hours in Athens, Greece. Well, what am I going to do? Well, I knew what I wanted to see - the Acropolis, and there it is. It's on this hill that dominates the city, and it's there that the ancient Greeks built this incredible temple to their goddess Athena. Even after 20 centuries, I have to tell you, it's still an impressive, imposing structure and it still dominates the city. The Acropolis was the most sacred, most protected, most honored place in all of Athens. In fact, it was a serious crime to violate that temple, as it was in many ancient cultures. Hey, everybody knew the temple got first class treatment because the gods live there.
Now, those ancient worshippers had the wrong God, but in a way they had the right idea about His temple. It was in the time of those temples and ancient deities that Paul wrote our word for today from the Word of God in 1 Corinthians 6:19- 20.
Here's what he says, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." Now Paul is presenting here one of Christianity's most revolutionary and most shocking ideas. If you belong to Jesus Christ, you are the building God lives in!
And even pagan people knew that the way you take care of your god's dwelling place tells a lot about how you feel about your god. If you know Christ, you are God's two-legged temple! You don't have to go to Greece to see a temple - all you have to do is look in the mirror! So everything you do with that body of yours, God is part of. Everything you do to that body, in a sense, you do to God.
So the question is: Are you treating your body like the temple treasure that it is? If you really care about the God you say you love, you won't let His temple run down, get overweight, get abused by an eating disorder, or get all out of shape. Ancient pagans knew you had to keep the temple in good condition because your temple advertises what your god is like. That's what you and I do with the body that His Holy Spirit has come to live in. Maybe you're devaluing that temple God lives in with the junk you put in it, or by playing around sexually, using His temple to satisfy your glands or your curiosity. Do you know who lives in the body you're doing that with? The Holy Spirit of God.
It isn't smart to junk up God's temple. It isn't smart to misuse God's temple. That's what the moneychangers found out when they were abusing God's temple in Jesus' day - when His temple was a building. It's one of the few places in the Bible where Jesus is really angry. He physically, angrily goes after those who have messed up the place that is God's dwelling. Today, that's your body, and Jesus doesn't like it when you junk up His temple.
It matters what you do with His temple; what you put into it, how you treat it. The reason it matters to Jesus so much - what you do with that body of yours - with that temple of yours - is that He paid for you with His blood. You were, remember, "bought at a price." And that price was Jesus' life. He has a right to expect that the body His Spirit has moved into will be kept very special for Him.
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