Praise for Inefficiency

A Smart Car pulled up next to me at a red light on my way to work this morning.

On the other side of the road, I noticed the normal variety of vehicles, mostly with one occupant each, making their way to the normal variety of places.

The Smart Car got me thinking about efficiency.  While we have 2 small children, a two-seater is not a great choice for us. So I think, as I drive my 10 year old car that gets pretty good mileage, about the possibilities of an electric car or a hybrid.

When it comes to cars, some of us are all about efficiency.

For almost 5 years, Rachel and I shared one car.  While it wasn’t the most fuel efficient car available, it was paid for and did pretty well with gas.  We also learned, while sharing a car, to maximize the value of each trip we took.

Because we are all about efficiency.

These last few mornings I’ve been opening windows throughout the house to invite cooler air inside.  I think doing so will lower our need for air-conditioning when the afternoon reaches the mid 90s. Our house is pretty well insulated and we shop for the lowest electricity rates we can find.

Because we are all about efficiency.

But then this morning I read Deuteronomy 24. I am rethinking efficiency.

God’s people are told not to be all about efficiency.  Part of the way they were (we are) to help take care of the “widow, the orphan, and the immigrant,” is to refuse to be all about efficiency.

The agrarian people of God were commanded in Deuteronomy 24:19-22 intentionally not to harvest their fields as efficiently as possible.

“When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.”

I think included in this call toward inefficiency is an opportunity to develop trust.  As we learn to trust God (remember; this command comes from the God who has delivered the people from slavery and is leading them to the Promised Land) we learn to see life as a blessing from God.

The more we come to understand life as a blessing from God, the easier it will be, I believe, to learn to live within our means. Living within our means enables us to become more generous.

May you see today as a blessing from the God who has – or who will – deliver you, and may you learn to live inefficiently in response!

Wasted on Jesus

In Matthew 26:6-13, a woman interrupted Jesus’ visit to Simon’s home by anointing him with oil.  She took an alabaster jar ‘f “Very expensive oil” and poured it on him while he was sitting at dinner.anointing Jesus

The disciples, Jesus’ closest and dearest, most committed followers, take offense. “Why this waste?” they asked.

Wasted on Jesus.

The perfume could have been sold, they continued, and the proceeds given to the poor.

Jesus’ disciples, his closest and most committed followers, felt that this extravagant gift had been wasted on Jesus.

The disciples were all about efficiency.  They weren’t a wealthy lot, and the had quickly picked up on Jesus passion for the poor.  They couldn’t stand that this expensive perfume had been wasted. On Jesus.

Yet Jesus, rather than applauding their penny-pinching, corrects them: “Why do you make trouble for this woman? She’s done a good thing for me.”

Now, I don’t know about you or your church, but we don’t have a lot of extra money lying around here.  We have a lot of generous people here willing to give to help the less fortunate.

Like most these days, we want the money we give to be used to the best, most-efficient purposes.  Some won’t give to general budget because they want every dime of their money to go to the cause; the efficient, don’t-pay-for-the-red-tape feet-on-the-ground need.Some of us want to see the financial reports that prove we aren’t wasting money.

But what if we are wasting it on Jesus?

I think it is significant that this passage appears in the chapter after Jesus teaches that giving to the poor is giving to him:

‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’ – Matthew 25:40

So, I believe, in giving to the poor we are giving to Jesus. But what, then, is the point of this story in Matthew 26?

Like  so much of our lives, and our issues, I believe it comes down to control.

The disciples, in the interest of efficiency, overlook the moment and the passion of the woman anointing Jesus.  They don’t grasp what is happening, or what it might mean to Jesus. And they think they can manage the moment and the gift better than the woman who is doing the giving.

Besides this being about the disciples’ concern over what someone else does, it is about their interest to control and direct resources. In this case, not even their own resources, but someone else’s.

They correctly caught that Jesus cared for the poor. But they misdiagnosed his care.  Jesus didn’t care for the poor as merely a matter of redistribution of resources.

Jesus cared for the poor out of a generous, sharing, giving heart.

Jesus knew, the Bible teaches, and modern research has proven, the power of generosity.

The woman anointing Jesus is not careful with her gift. She is lavish, extravagant, generous. Jesus is pleased and gracious in receiving her gift.

May you and I learn to model generosity more than concern for waste.