November 11, 2018 - Rick Tanner
Sermon by Rick Tanner, 25th Sunday after Pentecost – November 11, 2018
“As Jesus taught, he said, “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 banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “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.”
“He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Amen
Today’s Gospel reading has many elements that can easily take us in different directions of thought. As is often the case this particular passage is used as a means to motivate us during stewardship. It’s a direction that we have all heard over many years.
In addition we also see this passage as an indictment of how Jesus views the scribes and their abandonment of widows and their unscrupulous ways in the temple.
But today I’m am taking a slightly different direction. I want to focus on Jesus. Jesus the observer, and what he learns from the widow.
As a teacher I was often an observer. As part of the job you are constantly observing and assessing a student’s academic and social growth. It’s an important part of everyday. Sometimes your observations go beyond just the classroom. Early in my career I was extremely fortunate to work in a small, rural elementary school in Southern Oregon. It was a small school of less than 300 students in grades kindergarten to 6th grade.
The majority of families lived on small farms and orchards. Interestingly there was group of families that lived within a small isolated area, which could only be accessed by a four-wheel drive vehicle, called the “Sanctuary”. The sanctuary was where the aliens were to return, and the community adherents were hoping they would return at sometime. (There are times in the current state of affairs that we live in I would welcome those aliens as well.)
Many of the teaching and support staff lived in the attendance area of the school, so you became intimately involved with many families and understood their particular situations and trials in life. The years I spent at this school was an incredible gift. There was sense of family, and I still stay in contact with some of my colleagues.
I can recall one event in particular when my 2nd grade class was heading back to class after a visit to the library. This event called upon my skills as an observer, mediator and comforter. It was our weekly custom to have a story time and checkout books. It was a cherished time for many; as most of them had little or no money for purchase of books of their own.
As we were walking back to class one of the students named Forest approached me and said that some of the other students in class were making fun of him. I asked if he knew why they might be making fun of him. At this point Forest didn’t know what caused them to chastise him.
Forest was an interesting young boy, who now would be in his late 30s. I often wonder what his life is like.
As often was the case, a large majority of students were equipped to live in their rural life. They wore bib-overalls, and red topped striped black rubber boots, the perfect equipment and attire for feeding hogs, cows and mucking out horse stalls. Forest was a foot dragger, galumping, and pigeon-toed shuffler and was usually the last child in line or to come in from recess.
Forest and I brought up the end of the line as we made our way back to class. As was often Forest’s usual manner he hung down his head watching the sidewalk and shoved his hand deep into pockets of his overalls. The force of shoving his hand in the side pockets of his overalls splayed open the seam from the waist to the crotch. Immediately my observational skills whether or not I wanted them, came into full view, or should I say Forest’s derriere came into full view, sans underwear. Aha, case solved.
So at this point we ventured off to the Office to quickly and quietly take care of Forest’s overalls. There is more to this story but let’s say it involved my sewing and stitching skills and more somewhat comical and memorable moments.
My role as an observer, involved listening, problem solving, counseling and understanding Forest’s particular circumstances and laments. I knew his background as I had also had his brother in a previous year. I knew their mother and her circumstances, with an absentee husband and father with her trying her best to make ends meet.
Today we see Jesus able to observe the widow and her movements in the temple. He understood the circumstances of widows. We don’t know how long the widow had been going to the treasury with her two coins, but we can assume that when her husband was alive, she would have had more. We are not told if the woman in the story was young or old, or had children. But for Jesus this really didn’t matter. He is not praising the willingness of the woman to give all she had, but rather condemning the officials for their greed and cruel behavior.
Poor and without resources or power, she came to the temple and walked among the crowd who gave a lot of money mostly to increase their sense of stature in the community. And she came with the most meager of amounts to drop in the treasury, and she did not draw attention to herself as she gave, but her story lives on as one of the most powerful examples of generosity and radical trust that we know.
Under the Mosaic dispensation no legal provision was made for the maintenance of widows. They were left dependent partly on the affection of relations, more especially of the eldest son, whose birthright, or extra share of the property, imposed such a duty upon him…”
“…The loss of a husband in ancient Israel was normally a social and economic tragedy. In a patriarchal culture, the death of a husband usually meant a type of cultural death as well… Her crisis was aggravated if she had no able-bodied children to help her work the land of her dead spouse.
To provide for her children, to maintain the estate, and to continue payments on debts accrued by her husband imposed severe burdens. Since she was in an extremely vulnerable economic position, she became the prime target of exploitation. The fact that she was classed with the landless stranger and Levite indicates that she was often unable to keep her husband’s land.”
To better understand the temple, historians have describe its layout and architecture. There were thirteen wooden boxes with trumpet-shaped bronze funnels to guide the coins into the box that were placed under the colonnades of the Court of the Women. Each chest was labeled for a different type of offering, and the funds collected in them were earmarked for specific uses. In today’s Gospel it is recorded that Jesus contrasted the gifts that the rich people gave with the two mites of the widow.
How did he know that this widow had cast in two little coins? The sound these coins made against the metal would have indicated how much people offered to the Temple.
The court of the women was the outer forecourt of the Temples in Jerusalem into which women were permitted to enter. The court was also known as the "middle court," as it stood between the Court of the Gentiles and the court of Israel, also known as the court of the men.
Jesus commented to his disciples about the scribes “who devour widows’ houses.” The religious officials of the day, instead of helping the widows in need, were perfectly content to rob them of their livelihood and inheritance. The system was corrupt, and the darkness of the scribes’ greed makes the widow’s sacrifice shine even more brightly.
The temple system was obviously corrupt. This is the second time that Jesus condemns the temple system – the other time was when the turned over all the moneychangers tables and threw everyone out. This meek and mild man who preached love was not going to let the poor, weak and homeless be taken advantage of.
Jesus points her out, not to give us justification for a stewardship sermon, or to call attention to our own lives of service, but that in her he sees what he must do.
The widow’s sacrifice foreshadows what is to come in the life of Jesus. Jesus will have to give his whole life, his entire life. He already did, in fact, prior to the cross. He constantly embraced rejection. He consistently accepted the questioning of his followers. He confirmed over and over again that following him would mean whole life giving and whole life living. The widow’s example should be nothing new and at the same time should be everything new.
She embodies Jesus’ own ministry. She acts out Jesus’ own call. She believes that what she does will manifest itself in something beyond herself. In the end, that is truly discipleship according to Mark, that is truly leading to salvation according to Mark, and it is what Jesus portrays according to Mark. But more so, according to Mark, this is the essence of God.
God knows nothing else than to give God’s whole life. God has shown that time and time again to God’s people in the Hebrew Scriptures and we should expect no different now. This is the essence of God -- to give God’s whole self. And here, now, in this unnamed widow, God is doing it again.
Prominence and power and recognition are symbols of the world but for you and me, we are to be guided by a life of faith and trust in God. We might not have much, but if we can place all that we have, not so much in a literal sense but in a sense of motives, we too will receive much blessing from God. We give not to be noticed but we give because all that we have and all that we are belong to Him.
We cannot be mere observers in life. The strength in understanding our observations is to move them into action that transforms the lives of others and enriches us and this community. No one saw what the widow did except the eye of Jesus, so too my friends, serve the Lord with simplicity of your heart, give him your all and he will take you places you’ve never been before. Jesus saw his connection to the woman in a rather prophetic way, that he would ultimately sacrifice his life. He gave the ultimate offering to all of us. AMEN.