It was not unlike every other Sunday morning — a little less hectic than school mornings when everyone is scurrying around to make car pool on time. For seven year old Susan, Sunday mornings were generally good mornings, unless, of course, her little brother was in one of his ornery, teasing moods. She could sleep in, eat an unhurried breakfast, and dilly-dally, as her mom called it. All week long something had been on Susan’s mind. In Sunday school the previous week her teacher had been explaining to the class about giving to God. Putting money in the church offering was one way, she had told them. Also giving to support missionaries and to help poor people. Giving God a dime out of every dollar was called tithing. It made God very happy when we offer Him our tithe, the teacher had told the class. Susan wanted to please God.
“I want to take my money to church with me this morning,” Susan mentioned to her mother as she was getting the night’s tangles combed out of her hair. For months Susan had been saving part of the money that her mom paid her for doing chores around the house. She had accumulated several dollars. “How much?” her mother inquired, pleased that her daughter was developing a heart for giving. “All of it,” Susan responded. “Everything in my bank.”
Susan’s mom did not probe further, even though she was certainly curious and perhaps mildly concerned. What went on in the mind of an impressionable seven-year-old was sometimes hard to decipher. Obviously Susan had been doing a lot of thinking about this decision and her mom would not interfere in the process. Susan emptied her bank, tucked the bills and coins into her purse, and finished getting ready for church.
They were nearing the church — had just turned off the expressway and were stopped for a traffic light at the end of the exit ramp — when Susan spied a scruffy looking man with bushy, uncombed hair standing beside the road. He held a cardboard sign that read “Homeless — need food.” Something in Susan’s spirit leapt. Helping the poor makes God happy, she remembered her Sunday school teacher saying. And this man was surely poor. The light changed green and her father was beginning to pull off when Susan yelled out “Wait!” Quickly she rolled down her window, fished the money out of her purse, and reached out her hand toward the homeless man. Dropping the money into the man’s outstretched plastic cup, she told him with a smile, “God wants me to give this money to you.”
As they drove away, Susan looked back and watched the man staring with disbelief at the generous gift she had deposited in his cup. And then, with a bewildered expression on his face, he raised a grimy hand and waved at her. She waved back.
When our pastor related this personal account during a sermon, he choked with emotion. So did I. His theme was on extravagant giving, the kind Mary exhibited when she poured out a vial of expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. Irresponsible giving, some would say. Impulsive. But certainly from the heart. And it was this kind of giving, Jesus said, that would be held up as exemplary wherever the Good News is told. Susan had it right.
Presbyterians, our pastor went on to say, like things orderly. We like church that is well planned and giving that is thoughtfully (if not prayerfully) pledged. Too much spontaneity makes us uncomfortable. The mere mention of lavish giving surfaces immediate apprehensions, concerns about recklessness and rashness and irresponsibility. And by all means, we Presbyterians do want to avoid the very appearance of being irresponsible.
Susan touched our hearts by her innocent, extravagant giving. Who would dare spoil the beauty of her sacrificial act by even hinting that her money might have bought a bottle of cheap wine. No, to analyze such giving, to dissect it, to scrutinize it too carefully is to diminish its purity and its power. And we all know the reaction Judas got when he questioned the practicality of Mary’s lavish act.
Who knows? The homeless man might have been so deeply affected by Susan’s gift that he sobered up and turned his life around. It may have been the very moment, the very act, orchestrated by God to bring about a miracle of spiritual transformation. And maybe not. We simply have no way of knowing, not until the curtain is pulled back and we see as God sees. This we do know, however, that Susan’s tender-hearted gift was very pleasing to God. And we know, too, that Susan has given us a glimpse of a value system that is not of this world.
Rejoicing in the extravagance of Christmas,