Coins play a varied role in the scriptures. We can think of the woman who lost a coin and then found it and had a celebration with her friends. There is the widow who put one small coin into the offering, which was more than anyone else with large sums. There are those who received talents and earned talents with them. The one who buried his talent in the ground and was reprimanded. When asked if Jesus pays the temple tax, He sends Peter to catch a fish in which he finds the coin he needs to pay the tax. Judas keeps the purse with the coins, he betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Coins represented a value decided upon by the local government – in those times they were typically made of some kind of metal and therefore had some kind of intrinsic value. Today, sometimes, the intrinsic value of our coins is greater than the value they represent. It costs more than a cent to mint a penny, and the metal it is made of is also worth more than a cent.
In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus showed us the dangers of riches and the difficulty involved in not becoming attached to wealth. Today’s Gospel further cautions us against inventing an easy temporal explanation for how things will be. For Peter and the Apostles who “gave up everything to follow Christ,” Christ tells them that they will receive even more back already in this life. How absurdly paradoxical! Giving up everything then receiving one hundredfold back. Jesus doesn’t say, “become poor so that you can remain poor.” It isn’t that simple. Nor does He say, “Give up your material possessions and wealth so that you will have a spiritual one instead.” Here Jesus says, “Whoever gives up possessions in this life will receive one hundredfold in this life and eternal life in the next.” You almost want to call the rich young man back and tell him, “Hey! If you give it all up you will receive it all back one hundredfold!” Since the point is not about whether or not we have wealth (though having it is more difficult than not) it is better for those who have given all to follow Christ to learn how to use wealth well when it returns a hundredfold. This is what stewardship is all about: we must begin to see everything we have, all our resources and relationships, as gifts from God to be used according to His good will and pleasure as opposed to our own selfish desires.
We know how important humility is, but sometimes the only way we know of to grow in humility is by accepting humiliations. There is actually a much more evangelical way to grow in humility shown by the Virgin Mary and recommended by Jesus Himself: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord”, “Whoever would be greatest among you must become the servant of all.” Service is the evangelical way of humility.
As with everything in the Christian life however, it is not so much what we do as how we do what we do. The one who truly becomes a servant becomes the friend of Jesus: “I no longer call you servants, but friends.” The one condition of friendship, the how of our service, is the commandment of Christ, “…you are my friends if you do what I command you… this is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” How do we serve authentically? By serving with Christlike love.