To many, it must seem like a foolish endeavor, nay, an impossible task, surely doomed to fail. Although this undertaking has an end goal, there is no rigid plan, and there are no guaranteed resources to ensure success. This enterprise belongs to a traveling horde of people possessed of a wild hope—a hope that holds redemption at its very heart. It is a hope that both in spite of and because of the wildest of dreams something can change for the better.
This wandering group of people left their home in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on October 12. San Pedro Sula is, of course, a place that we at Saint Mark’s know well through our involvement with Our Little Roses Orphanage, and I imagine that those who’ve been to San Pedro Sula understand why this caravan of Hondurans are leaving their native land. They no longer want to be held captive to ubiquitous violence, in which the most innocent of persons can be swept up by corrupt political forces. They no longer want to be devoured by the gaping chasm created by the ever-widening polarization of rich and poor. They no longer want to live day after day figuring out how to make ends meet financially or receive proper health care. The time has come for this brave group of people to take a chance in hope. It is said that, for many of them, their faith in God requires nothing less.
And yet, I suspect, that to those sitting comfortably in homes with adequate utilities, in peaceful neighborhoods into which the sounds of violence rarely intrude, the growing caravan of Central Americans must seem to be undertaking a futile mission. In the hearts of those reading about the Central Americans in the New York Times over steaming cups of hot coffee, I’m sure that much empathy is aroused. I’m sure that many well-intentioned readers are moved at the plight of desperate folk seeking a better future. I’m sure that any person with a conscience and moral compass will feel their heart break at why these courageous souls are trekking thousands of miles to an uncertain destination. And still, for practical realists, there must be the inevitable conclusion that this foolhardy endeavor will simply not end well.
After all, the numbers just don’t add up. Statistically, the migrant caravan is a doomed venture. There is no concrete plan for life beyond the border. There is the likelihood of being abruptly turned away at the end of a long and arduous expedition. There is no certainty of food and provisions along the way. Many of these nomadic peoples have inadequate shoes for the journey. They are hardly able to carry any clothes with them. The outcome, frankly, looks dire.
But this does not seem to be the viewpoint of those traveling in the caravan. They might not have two coins to their name, but they are possessed of an overabundance of hope. In their heart of hearts, these impoverished and oppressed people are willing to set out for an uncertain future thousands of grueling miles down the road, banking everything, even their lives, on the dream that their lives can be different, that they might taste in this earthly life a bit of that glorious victory already achieved in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But we know that the long-robed cynics, those who devour hope, those who have money to throw into the treasuries of this world and who are good at predicting whether the numbers will ensure success, these skeptical humans must attribute the hope and faith of the migrant travelers to desperation. Only desperation would cause such impoverished people to throw their last two coins at the border of an uncertain future. Surely, the first-century crowd in Jerusalem must have thought the same when they saw the poor widow casting two worthless coins into the treasury coffers. While members of the crowd contributed their own loud, clanging pieces of metal, they must have felt a condescending pity for that poor widow who was foolish enough to hand over two small coins. As if taken in by a smarmy televangelist leeching dollars from gullible TV viewers, this widow had been taken in by her own weak desperation. Of course, it was acceptable for the crowd possessed of means to part with some of their change, but how foolish for this silly person with no name, no status, and no quantifiable future to waste two meager coins on maintaining the Temple treasury! What possible good could it do?
But as it usually happens in the Gospels, the crowd in their superficial displays of generosity, and the scribes prancing around in their ostentatious robes, have missed the point. It is the poor widow who has chosen the better part, for she has chosen to give based on hope. This poor widow has not given up the possibility that her gift might make a difference. In the end, the point is not really about the money. The rich crowd gives because giving feels good and buttresses their own sense of self-worth. But this poor widow, well, we really don’t know why she gives, other than that she offers something of herself—everything she has, indeed, her whole life—in the hope that God can work something good. We don’t know what she is contributing towards. And there is little reason to believe that the treasury would ever benefit her. But it’s really not about the money. It’s about a heart yearning to throw itself at the mercy of God in hope.
Like the poor widow, those travelers in the migrant caravan from Honduras are the unnamed individuals in this world whose futures have been brutally swept away by the flowing robes of the privileged. They are the ones whose quiet, pleading voices have been drowned out by the clanging of money exchanged in the places of power. These people have been systematically demeaned because of greed, insensitivity, and practical skepticism. But at the end of the day, the truly rich of this world are the poor widows and the traveling Central Americans, who have no carefully constructed, practical plans for their futures. They are rich because in their material poverty, their hearts have been opened to hope in the treasury of God’s grace.
If only we could learn something of the reckless abandon of the poor in spirit. For when there is a dearth of material possessions, it often becomes evident that God’s kingdom is built on the eternal gift of hope, not on numbers, budgets, graphs, and financial statements. If only we could heed the examples of those who are not afraid, in their faith in God, to throw hope wildly into the confused winds of the world. Real faith assumes that two small copper coins can, in the mysterious working of God’s radical grace, play some part in changing the world.
We know, though, that reality is yet a bit more nuanced. Budgets are, in fact, necessary. Numbers are, in some sense, important. And we are indeed called to be responsible stewards of our material gifts. We know that material gifts and investments can play their part in bringing the Gospel into the world, for we need money to do that much-needed Gospel work. Yet ultimately the numbers are meaningless and the money itself is dormant unless we, like the poor widow and the migrant Central Americans, can dream and hope with abandon, trusting fully in God’s power to work miracles with ever so little means.
Because any vision for participating in God’s kingdom in this world will perish if we are mired in practicality and skepticism. A caravan headed towards a potentially closed border is utter folly, so it seems to the practical mind. And two small copper coins thrown by a destitute woman into a vast coffer to fund who-knows-what seems completely insensible. But no one ever said that being Christian meant being sensible. Who would ever imagine the salvation of the world in the ignominious death of a humble Galilean man? Who would call sensible a Gospel that reverses the stubborn values of this world? Who would ever tie themselves to a belief system that finds its core tenet in an empty tomb?
And yet, that is what we are as Christians. We are foolish in the eyes of the world, because that is God’s wisdom. We are insensible in our hope for a different future. We are reckless in casting our dreams and hopes before the throne of God with confidence that something miraculous can happen. It is our bounden duty to pray and move to action in the hope that one day the nameless of this world, like the poor widow and the anonymous hordes of migrant Central Americans, will inherit names. It is our bounden duty to believe that the oppressed with quiet voices will one day be fully heard over the din of greed and wealth. It is our duty to be reckless in our own initiatives for change so that no matter how seemingly small the offering or how foolish the undertaking, God can use it all to redeem what is broken, precisely because he has already done it in Christ. Our hope is not in the human-made systems of this world that have become our distorted idols; our hope is in God’s grace and power working through those systems.
If we can see past our human desire for certainty, if we can look past the statistical assurances of success, and if we can be a bit foolhardy in our hope in what is, as of yet, unseen to us, anything is possible. On the surface, it seems that the poor widow has literally nothing that the systems of this world can use in their noisy, hollow operations. But she possesses everything that God can use. And lest we look condescendingly at those impoverished migrants who are reckless in their faith in God, we should consider this: two small copper coins cast in blind hope at the border to freedom just might end up on the other side.
Preached by Father Kyle Babin
11 November 2018
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia