Proper 27 Year B, November 11, 2018, Morning Prayer,
Rev. Otto S. Anderson, Deacon
1 Kings 17:8-16, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44†
In my last assignment before retiring from the Air Force, I made multiple trips out west, to Las Vegas, supporting military exercises and other customers. Most of the time I stayed in hotels on or near the Vegas strip. That made for an interesting time when I was not working. Not a gambler, I spent many hours walking the strip, exploring the casinos and, of course, watching people.
Now Vegas has a lot of interesting people. I was amazed how someone, in a single bet, could lose hundreds, even thousands of dollars. It made me ponder the kind of wealth one had that allowed them such ease of spending. I was equally struck and, also, concerned at I saw the pensioners busy at the nickel and quarter slots. I often wondered if they were betting money meant to cover rent, or food, or medicine.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has been teaching and now is people watching in the Temple’s Court of Women where the treasury is located. Against the wall, there were thirteen chests, or ‘trumpets” where contributions were placed. The chests were called trumpets because they were narrow at one end and wide at the other. Coins made a racket as they hit and rolled down the brass trumpet. Each chest was labeled for a different type of offering, and the funds collected in them were earmarked for specific uses. In one paper on Temple life, it was stated that people announced their gifts so that Temple
Officials could record it. That form of giving doesn’t fit well with Matthew 6’s view of giving: do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
Jesus observed many people, rich and poor, including a needy widow, offering
contributions. It must have been an impressive sight to see people in fine clothes tossing in large sums, calling out “trumpeting” their contribution. It must have sounded like one of those slot machines had hit the jackpot. And, in such a group, such a commotion, who would notice a widow tossing two small coins into the offering? Yet Jesus notices and calls attention to this act of faith.
Jesus calls his disciples together and says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Jesus knows that these are not any two coins, but the woman’s last two coins. The text says, “All she had to live on,” but the reality as Jesus tells us; this widow put her “life” into the temple treasury that day. What a great message as we complete our stewardship of treasure season! Just ask yourselves what would the widow do and turn in those pledge cards in if you already haven’t done so.
But, Jesus is up to something more for us, more compelling, and more extreme. The story of the widow’s mite calls all earthly authority into question. The reader, like the widow is left with nothing but God and God’s promises.
In the chapters before today’s reading, Jesus repeatedly connects the Temple and those in authority with corruption. He goes to the Temple and throws out all those selling and trading goods inside God’s house. Next, Jesus tells a few parables against the scribes and the Pharisees, the upholders of Temple rules and order. Then, sitting in the Temple, Jesus begins the passage we read today. “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at the banquets!” The story about the widow’s mite continues, and in the following verses, Jesus leaves the Temple
and says that it’s going to be destroyed. The great Temple in Jerusalem, the center of the faith, destroyed! Jesus doesn’t just call the Temple into question, he attacks the Temple leaders. “Beware of the scribes,” he says, “they devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.”. Jesus was angry at a system where widows were induced to give their meager resources to the Temple; giving their houses, their inheritance, their lives to the Temple treasury. Was this what worshiping God was all about? Jesus is not very happy with these people, ones in positions of authority and
power, in their fancy clothes who rob the poor. “They will receive the greater
condemnation,” he promises.
When Jesus tells the story of the widow giving her only two coins, he doesn’t praise her. He doesn’t make a value judgement over her great sacrifice. He just says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those contributing to the treasury.” Sure, she gave out of her poverty, they out of their wealth. But Jesus never says, “be like her,” he just says don’t be like the scribes.
These words, this story, challenges us. Don’t put your trust in the Temple. Can we live with that challenge? Don’t put your trust in showy religious leaders. Can we live with that challenge? But then this old widow gives her all to that corrupt institution, and Jesus doesn’t praise the act, he just says it like it is. …What should we do about that challenge? Her money is given to a corrupt institution. She has nothing to live on and all she did have, is gone. The widow isn’t an example of good giving, or good stewardship, she’s an age-old example of being duped. She’s the widow who gave all she had to a charity that wasn’t a charity at all. So, what’s left? Where is the Good News in this story?
First: Jesus noticed her. Above the rich, the powerful, the prestigious. The ones
playing at the Vegas high stakes poker table. Jesus noticed her. Jesus notices the pensioner, the widow playing at the nickel slots. The woman without an income who, in that society, was worth absolutely nothing. Jesus notices!
Jesus is always doing that: talking to the sinner, being kind to the foreigner, welcoming the children. Jesus cares for the vulnerable. That’s what he ultimately gives his life for: for the vulnerable, even the corrupt, the condemned, for us sinners, for all of humanity. Jesus calls us from this passage. He challenges us to act. He takes us back to what is essential in this life, to what is proper Temple worship; ….to love, …to notice and …to care for each other. He calls for us to look out for and to care for the vulnerable of this
world… to care for that widow in the Temple,