All the World's a Classroom

How is it

How is it

That we bask in comfort

While others gasp for air

At the edge of the cliff

Between death and life

 

How is it

That we fuss over petty things

While some hearts beat furiously

Fleeing the rush of that

Which the earth spews

 

How is it

That we nurse selfish ambitions

While many are robbed from choice

No luxury of thinking about tomorrow

Only to not drown now

 

O dear God

Give us eyes that see

Heaven’s view of earth’s distress

Give us the heart that feels

The anguish of our brothers

 

Help our lives today

Be a soothing balm for Your pain

If I could by my way

Bring a smile to Your face

 

Dedicated to those affected by the recent tsunami and on-going volcanic eruptions in Indonesia.

This Story Called Life

If life is a journey, then each of us is a lonesome traveler. Not that we travel alone from start to finish, but that our path is distinctly our own. No one else starts at the same exact point as we do, no one else ends at the same point as we do. No one else takes the same turns, U-turns, detours, and wrong turns. But at every point, though, our path overlaps and intersects with others’. We meet other travelers on the way, some going the same way, some going other ways. Sometimes we get to travel together with people for a long period of time. Naturally these people would be going in the same direction as we do.

At those intersections or overlapping lines, there’s this thing called influence that we exert upon each other. In one way or another, we wouldn’t be the same again after those interactions. Some may even influence the next steps and turns that we would take, whether we are conscious of it or not.

What’s more fascinating is that there are travelers whose paths we never intersect, yet the twists and turns in their paths greatly influence ours. These people may live in a different time and place than us. Great historical characters who lived inspiring lives are prime examples of this group of people.

What got me thinking recently, however, are not these obviously influential people who are far away from me. I thought about the people who are closer, whose stories I assumed I know but in reality, I actually don’t. I was thinking specifically about my parents. We are much attached to our parents, of course, and we know them well. Yet, although our paths overlap very closely for a very long amount of time, when I start to think about what they have gone through in their lives, I realize that I have no idea what it is like to walk on their paths. They too once were like me, being in my age, making decisions as I do. What thoughts did they have then? The persons that they became of course were in turn, influenced by their parents, my grandparents.

My father used to tell his kids stories about his younger years. I wouldn’t get tired of him telling the same stories over and over again. He would tell us what his family was like, what he did when he was in his twenties, how he left his hometown to go to Jakarta with very little money to make something out of himself. He made crazy, risky, and bold decisions that turned out to be right, and he made some others that turned out to be wrong. Life was rough and definitely not smooth-sailing. At times he came across scams and people who tricked him, and in the end he would just have to take the hit. When I was little, though, hearing these stories over dinner, I would always have this surreal feeling – I can’t believe the person who’s telling the story and the person whose story is being told is the same person. But yet it is.

As I grew older, certain parts of the stories were explained in more details and I got a clearer picture of my family history and heritage, some related to the historical context of the country. It gave me more insights to understand the person-hood of my father more, and how those things could influence him. Yet even with all of this combined, I still don’t know what it means to experience all the things that he did. To extend it even further, he would tell me stories of my grandfather whom I never met, and they would sound like stories in a history book – distant and grand. My grandfather’s path influenced my father’s path, which in turn influences mine. And you can just keep going.

This is simply what happens in life, and it’s quite amusing just being marveled by the way things are. The web of humanity – there is not one person on earth who knows how we all are interconnected. Things like Facebook give us a snapshot of how intricate the part of the web that we’re in is, but it’s still not the full story. I long for that day (or the thousand years) when we will at last know and have all of these explained to us.

A Noticed Penny

Mark 12:41-44 (NASB)

41And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury;

I wonder what this day in the life of Jesus was like. As busy as Jesus was, at this instance, He took the time to simply sit down and observe people. It seemed random that He just decided to do this. Was He taking a break from teaching? Did He see something intriguing that He wanted to observe? Was this a common thing that Jesus did? Did He do it out of a whim or was it intentionally done to teach the disciples an important lesson?

Perhaps it wasn’t fully random. After all He decided to sit opposite to the treasury. The immediate issue at hand, of course, was money. Notice that He was observing how the people were putting the money into the treasury. How many ways can a person put money into the treasury? Physically, you can first observe how people walk towards the treasury. Some would strut, some would straight to the treasury, some would bow a little as a language of humility or self consciousness. It was a public place, and people knew that others would be watching. Some loved the attention, some were uncomfortable. Some would mindlessly put down their money, some with a little attitude, some with carefulness so as to not make a lot of noise. From physical observations, perhaps then you could make inferences on the motive of the person.

and many rich people were putting in large sums.

The treasury was a place that collected free will offerings and money from the people. What was given was not tithe or sacrifices of penitence; the givers gave out of their own free will. Of notice, the rich people were giving a lot of money because, quite naturally, they had a lot of it.

42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.

Seeing a poor person around the treasury was perhaps a rare occasion. A woman, alone, was about to be the center of attention. A rich widow would make the story very different, but this was a poor one. I wouldn’t imagine her making a lot of noise.  Timidly, she would approach the treasury. Did she go up when others went up too so the crowd wouldn’t notice her? Or did people naturally avoid being seen and associated with her?

She put in two small copper coins, a cent. A penny. That was her free will offering. I think about how worthless pennies are today. These are the smallest denominations in US currency, the ones we see on the sidewalks and no one cared to pick them up.

43Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury;

Yet her penny did not escape the eyes of God. Not only Jesus noticed this widow, He bragged about her.  He said this widow put in more than all others. Maybe He meant all others individually, maybe He all other contributors combined. How can a penny be worth more than a whole treasury?

44for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

All other people gave out of their abundance. This widow’s mite, however, was all that she owned, all that she had to live on. How in the world can someone only own a penny? How can something that is so worthless to many, worth so much to a person and to God? This widow’s life was in that mite, and she gave that to God. It was more than a free will offering; it was a free will sacrifice.

It is when sacrifices that cost something are called for that the heart is tested.[1]


[1] A quote from S. N. Haskell’s article in The True Missionary, a short-lived journal published during 1874, found in Sacrifice & Commitment

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