“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Using "limited" gifts

"As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 'I tell you the truth,' he said, 'this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.'" (NIV)

The obvious analogy here is that persons on fixed incomes, like individuals with disability living on social security are similar to the widow who gave a small amount which was by comparison was a large amount. I have sat in church when persons with severe mental retardation put a dollar in the offering and saved fifty cents for a donut after church, recognizing that these were probably their two financial splurges for the week. You might say that this is less than the 10% tithe the church has adopted, however, it is the heart of these people which impresses me, not the amount of their gift.

But this verse struck me in another way as I read it this morning. "All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth" caused me to think of other gifts that people without disability have. Gifts like intellect, health, physical strength, social skill, community mobility, understanding of things of the Lord. We often hear that 90% of the work of a church is done by 10% of the people. I honestly think that I have yet to ask a person with a cognitive disability to do something for me and for them to refuse. They are quickly willing to spend their "limited resources" due to disability to do just about anything for the church, for others, whatever might be asked. They are certainly not limited in their desire to serve. Perhaps that is why persons with mental retardation are beginning to gain the reputation of being such good workers.

Through programs such as supported employment, employers are beginning to see that once the worker understands what she is to do, she will be reliable and dependable. As stated elsewhere they will treat an entry level job as a career. There is a movie I once saw about a woman with cerebral palsy and mild mental retardation. After years of training she was finally able to get a job as a ticket taker in a movie theater. Her comment upon receiving the job, and being able to hold it for several years was, "To you this might seem like a small thing but to me this is my life."

In Jesus' example of the widow, I think there are at least three take home lessons. One is to celebrate the gifts of those who aren't as gifted. The second is apply her example of sacrafice to ourselves in the way we use all that we have been given. The third is to provide opportunities for those who perhaps aren't as gifted to express their gifts. If your standard for participation is always and only excellence, then only a few will be able to participate. Imagine if the minimal standard for giving in Jesus' time had been a silver coin rather than any gift. The copper coins the widow sacraficed to give would never have been given and therefore never used. Her desire to give to God might have gone ignored. However, if your standard is meeting the desire to give or to serve then all can potentially be involved. If people with cognitive disabilities in my church have the desire to serve but no opportunities are available, then it is my fault, the church's fault not theirs.


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