By Elaine Ramshaw
RCL Reflection, Pentecost 3,
Proper 6, Year A
Click here for the lessons
June 18, 2023
Key verse: Jesus said, “You received without payment; give without payment.” -Matthew 10:8
The lessons today provide especially strong ground for addressing the giving aspect of stewardship, and for framing that giving not as duty but as gratitude.
In today’s gospel passage, Jesus is talking to the disciples he is sending out to bring the good news of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. It may surprise us that in these instructions their main mission is not teaching about Jesus; their main mission is to heal the sick, to cure all sorts of diseases, including those understood as signs of possession. Healing has characterized Jesus’ own ministry, but we tend to think of his followers’ call as distinct from that. Yet here the followers are sent out to provide direct, concrete help, to go to those most at risk and change their lives for the better. That is the main way the followers will make it clear that the Kingdom of God has come near.
Then Jesus says, “You received without payment; give without payment.” What is it they received? Perhaps some of them were healed by Jesus, like Mary Magdalene; perhaps some of them had family members healed by Jesus, like Peter. If so, this healing was given freely, without payment. Perhaps what they received was the healing experience of community where they were accepted and valued. Perhaps Jesus is referring to their receiving the power to heal; this, too, they didn’t have to pay for. In any case, they are being urged to give without demanding payment, since no payment was demanded of them.
The reading from Romans focuses on Paul’s central message of grace: that our new life as God’s children and heirs is not something we earn or deserve by our righteousness, but is something God does for us out of love when we do not deserve it. “While we were still sinners, while we were still weak, Christ died for us.” In this way our whole identity as God’s children is something we “received without payment”—Paul calls it “this grace in which we stand.” God’s love was poured into our hearts, Paul writes; and that is both God’s love for me and God’s love overflowing from my heart to my neighbor. Knowing that I did nothing to earn God’s love, I let it flow to others without expecting them to earn it or to repay me.
While Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is a new thing in the story of God’s love for humankind, grace does not begin with Jesus. The creation story makes it clear that all that we see and know and are is a gift of God, a gift that comes without a price tag. In today’s first lesson from Exodus, God calls the Israelites to be God’s own people by reminding them of what happened to the oppressing Egyptians, “how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself,” bringing the Israelites safely out of slavery, through the sea, into the promised land. This is the grace in which they stand. This gift that made them who they are is what makes it possible for them to be God’s people and live according to the covenant.
Congregants could be invited to name gifts they have received for which they did not pay or which they did nothing to deserve. These gifts could include life itself, health, the senses, music, natural beauty, the joy of movement, the love of a friend or of an animal, another person’s forgiveness, a baby’s trust, a family’s financial stability or wealth, or simply being born into a family where there is no fear of going hungry. There could be space in the prayers to name these gifts aloud or silently, followed by the refrain, “Thank you for this gift/ I received without payment.”
The prayer could end, “As we have received without payment, empower us to give without payment, in Jesus’ name.” Alternatively, people could be invited to write down these gifts they have received without payment and to put those slips of paper into the offering basket with their offering or (if they don’t generally give by placing a monetary offering in the basket) with their statement of what they give online to the church or by volunteering or advocating.
Children could also be invited to name some of the gifts we have which we didn’t earn or have to pay for. This could be a topic for a children’s time in worship. What are things we like which we or our parents had to pay for? What are things we like which we didn’t have to pay for? What are things we do for others that we don’t ask them to pay for or work for? As with the prayer suggested above, this discussion could end with linking our receiving with our giving, saying that we give without expecting payment because we received so much without having to pay for it.
Patrick McDonnell’s picture book The Monsters’ Monster could be read in Sunday school or by parents at home; in it, little would-be monsters are gradually transformed by the wonder and gratitude expressed and shared by the gentle “monster” they create. It’s a lovely story of how goodness naturally grows out of gratitude for what we have received, from sunlight to doughnuts.
Adolescents, as well as adults, may find it interesting to consider why it is that people with less money give proportionately more in “charitable giving” than do people with more money. The teens can research this easily by putting “poor give more than rich” into a search engine. (One helpful source is https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/almanac/who-gives-most-to-charity/) What reasons are proposed for why working class people give a significantly larger percentage of their money away than do wealthier people? Is giving linked to gratitude? Do people with less feel more grateful for what they have, while wealthier people take life and health and food for granted? Why do you think people making $200,000 a year give away more if they live in areas of mixed income, and less when they live in zip codes where 80 percent of residents also make $200,000 or more (see webpage just cited)? What role might religious belief play? People who attend religious services give substantially more than those who do not. Is that because they’re told they’re supposed to give, or might it be because they’re aware that God has given them so much? Or because they are more connected to other people who are hurting?
Elaine Ramshaw is an author, spiritual director and seminary instructor who teaches pastoral care online from her home in Connecticut.