Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 11, 2018
25th Sunday after Pentecost
Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
By the church calendar, we are nearing the end of this year’s readings from the Gospel of Mark. Soon we will celebrate Christ the King Sunday and begin another year in the life of the church with the Season of Advent. But for now, we recognize an important time approaching in the life of Jesus. Soon he will turn his face toward Jerusalem. Soon soldiers will come to take him away. Soon he will be falsely accused, judged, and found guilty—soon and very soon—which makes today’s gospel reading even more poignant.
Most of us have heard sermons about the widow’s generous offering. It makes for an excellent stewardship message. I have certainly preached the text from that point of view and a lot of good can come from it. But this morning I want us to entertain a broader perspective of what Jesus is attempting to convey. Nearing the end of his ministry, Jesus happens to be in the temple observing the goings-on. He notices the scribes who have built up quite a reputation. They love wearing flashy robes and saying long-winded prayers that have about as much heart as they do. Known for taking advantage of helpless widows, they insist on being greeted with a respect they hardly deserve. Essentially, these scribes represent a temple-system that is broken beyond repair.
After Jesus criticizes the behavior of the religious leaders, he sits down to get an up close and personal view of what transpires in his Father’s house of prayer. Watching the people put money into the treasury, he notices the widow’s offering. There she is, just being herself, and Jesus catches her at it. Never one to miss a teaching moment, Jesus tells his disciples to look at this woman who literally has only 2 cents to rub together—nevertheless she gives her all. She has no robes. She garners no respect in the marketplaces or the synagogue. She does not sit in the place of honor at banquets. In fact, no one notices her—no one except Jesus. Jesus notices. Jesus sees.
Undeniably, we don’t know much about the widow, other than she no longer has a husband to support her and she is poor—extremely poor. Maybe she has children, maybe not. Maybe she is responsible for herself alone. She may live nearby and have a habit of visiting the temple every day because she yearns to be in Yahweh’s house. But she wouldn’t have to be in the temple that often to pick up on what the scribes are all about. Building their wealth on the back of widows and orphans and other helpless people in the Jewish community, their reputation has no doubt preceded them. Surely, even the widow knows their character. As I imagine the widow, I see a faithful woman of God, who recognizes the temple system for what it is—broken in many ways—nevertheless, she remains faithful. When it comes to the things of God, she will be generous no matter what.
At this point, we can’t help but wonder what good the widow’s sacrifice accomplishes though. Does her generosity simply add to the coffers of religious leaders in the temple system who are eager to exploit those who are vulnerable? Is Jesus pointing to her as an example of what to do or is he simply observing the contrast between the scribes who seem to have it all and the widow who seems to have nothing? Or both?
Jesus watches the widow give to an institution that has become perverted and he draws his disciples’ attention to this woman who gives “all that she has.” Interesting choice of words from someone who is about to follow suit, literally giving all that he has—his own life—for something that is broken and corrupt—the temple, yes, but also—all of humanity. Jesus sees things clearly—nevertheless, soon Jesus will suffer and die. Nevertheless, soon Jesus will give his all for love of his Abba Father, for love of all peoples of the world. In that moment, he will cry out, “It is finished,” and the curtain of the temple will be torn asunder.
In his life and ministry, Jesus is all about disrupting systems. Still today, we live in a world of systems that have gone awry—systems that desperately need the disrupting power of Christ. Who can deny that in our current economic system, the rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer? Who can deny the brokenness of our educational system that puts pressure on teachers to test rather than teach? Who can deny the brokenness of our healthcare system that allows life-saving technologies and medications to be inaccessible to too many people? Who can deny the brokenness of the church that, in too many places, has become so focused on NOT dying, we have failed to teach people how to live?
So much around us is broken. We see it on the news—particularly with our recent mid-term elections. We feel it in our finances. We recognize it in our own families and other close relationships. Honestly, how do we keep from being overwhelmed by powers over which we have little control? Can our two cents possibly make a difference?
The world may seem to be going to hell in a handbasket, nevertheless we are called as children of God to do whatever small good we can. That’s it—really. Day by day, decision by decision, we walk into the light and help others do the same. It’s our life. It’s our mission for we are called to be a sign in and for the world of a new reality made possible through Christ. The PCUSA Book of Order informs us of ways the church serves as such a sign: By…
ministering to the needs of the poor, the sick, the lonely, the powerless…
engaging in the struggle to free people from sin, fear, oppression, hunger, and injustice…
giving itself to the service of those who suffer…
sharing with Christ in the establishing of his just, peaceable, and loving rule in the world.
The Church is called to undertake this mission even at the risk of losing its life.”[i]
Because of Christ’s sacrifice we live in the new reality, but not yet do we see it in its fullness. There may be an over-abundance of things broken all around us, nevertheless, we who are marked by baptismal waters, have been claimed as God’s own. We have been called to try to right whatever wrongs we see. How then, shall we spend ourselves? How, then, shall we spend our two cents? Day by day, may we grow into the likeness of our Lord, giving all that we have and all that we are for God’s service to the world.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Part II, Book of Order 2005-2007, G-3.0200-3.0400.
*Cover Art “Widow’s Mite” by James Christensen