Jesus was a freeloader.
There’s no evidence that he was gainfully employed during his ministry. We know he traveled the region with an entourage– preaching, teaching, and healing. We see him conversing over meals with others. He had access to boats (perhaps through his fishermen disciples) to transport them back and forth across the Sea of Galilee. But there is no Biblical text revealing how he paid for anything—room and board, clothing and sandals, boat maintenance, care for his aging mother, gifts for the various folks who hosted him, charitable donations, and living expenses.
Well, no text except for three little verses—practically throw-away— that tell it plainly. A text for today from Luke in the eighth chapter, verses one through three. Listen for God’s Word to us, recipients as well as proclaimers of the great good news. [LUKE 8:1-3]
Astonishing! Jesus and his disciples were supported by a group of women who provided for them out of their resources. Astonishing because women of that day generally did not have control over any money. In a patriarchal culture, men took care of women: their daughters, their wives, and their mothers. The religious tradition specifically called for the care of “widows and orphans” because of their vulnerability—they had no men to protect and provide for their wellbeing.
This text points to a reversal of the status quo: women stewarding the monetary resources they had in order to sustain Jesus’ ministry. They valued what he was doing and chose to invest in him and the work. Perhaps it was out of gratitude for the healing they had experienced personally.
We know from additional learning that Mary, in particular was a woman of extraordinary spiritual insight and that her name does not refer to her hometown (which didn’t exist at this time) but the designation bestowed upon her by Jesus—a “watchtower” of strength and wisdom.
Except for these three named women, we don’t know the back stories or motivation behind the generosity of “the many others” who gave. Yet they are mentioned because their donations also made it possible for Jesus to focus on his life-giving work. Surely they felt connected to it as well and experienced joy that they, too, were participating alongside Jesus.
Today we have been inspired by the life-giving work of Jesus as it is carried out through Central’s ministries and partnerships. Picture in your mind’s eye. . . .
. . . .Rosa, the San Luis Valley child nurtured through La Puente’s afterschool and summer program;
. . . .Diana, the harried single mother holding down two jobs who shops for nutritious food at Metro Caring;
. . . .Edwin, the man who made some poor choices early on but has found a path to recovery and dignity through Heartbeat Denver Working Men’s Shelter;
. . . .Tracy, the woman incarcerated at Denver’s Correctional Facility discovering she can both face the moral injury of her actions and deal with the trauma of her life through caring relationships and helpful resources;
. . . .Carina, who had contemplated suicide until she found love and acceptance as a transgender person through volunteers at Rainbow Alley;
. . . .the children of African immigrant families navigating their way through school, English lessons, homesickness, and adjustment to a very different way of life finding reason to smile because of being “accompanied” on their journey by open-hearted church folks.
Now picture in your mind’s eye the faces of those who provided for them out of their resources. . . .
That’s YOU. That’s Central. Providing for Jesus (also known as Rosa, Diana, Edwin, Carina, and many others) through our gifts, including time, knowledge, skills, and money.
Make no mistake, friends: that’s how God’s work gets done in this beautiful and broken world.
Sometimes I think Jesus had it easy—no building to maintain, no budgets to balance, no expectations to manage. But then I remember that in the end, he went “all in”—sacrificing his very life—to show us that love overcomes everything that would hurt or destroy the beloved people, even death. That’s the example we’re called to follow. To love one another. To love our neighbors as ourselves. To love God with all that we are.
How will we pay for it? I’m reminded of the minister who stood in the pulpit on Dedication Sunday and said: I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that God has provided everything we need to do God’s work this coming year. The bad news is . . . . most of it is still in your bank accounts.
That’s not really true at Central. For more than 160 years, this congregation has provided for Jesus’ ministry out of their resources. Our forebears didn’t hold back either: their giving funded English lessons and material support for Chinese immigrants laboring on the railroad; they put up the first money for Presbyterian Hospital and later used invested funds to bring it through financial difficulty. The establishment of Metro Caring, the working men’s shelter, and the recent capital renovation project that improved our historic building as an effective witness and servant for this time.
All are potent examples of the generous use of resources God has provided us. As you sip delicious Purple Door coffee over lunch this afternoon, know that the coffee shop employing homeless young people right here at Central will open soon.
It seems right to celebrate the mission on a day when we also dedicate our personal financial commitments through the life and service of this beloved congregation. You and I are invited to share in Jesus’ work. Our pledges are an expression of gratitude for the ways faith is being formed in us through worship, learning at every stage of life, friendship and belonging, and opportunities to reach beyond ourselves to make a difference in the lives of our neighbors in need. We are affirming faith in Christ, who promises to be with us always.
No, Jesus was not a freeloader. He was someone whose trust in God’s good purposes freed him from worry about how to pay for it. His love, freely given, generates love, and love, my friends, is a boundless resource out of which we can provide for Jesus’ work in 2024 and far into the future.
Thank you. And thanks be to God!