“Watching the crowd”
November 8th 2015
Introduction: Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, a poet that I read from time to time, wrote this poem about the text for today:
Jesus sat and watched the crowd at the temple treasury.
Some that day were rich and proud, making sure that all could see there great generosity.
Then a widow came along who had nothing she could spare.
Yet her faith in God was strong and she gave as few would dare: All she had, she chose to share.
Just a penny, nothing more, yet Christ said her gift was best.
What a risk, for one so poor! What rich faith her gift expressed!
Trusting, giving, she was blest.
Lord, you see the way we live; all within our hearts, you know.
Like that widow, may we give.
Trusting you, our gifts will grow and our joy will overflow!
Throughout his ministry, Jesus called to attention those on the margins of society, those who had previously gone unnoticed, the poor, the blind, the lame, the beggars, the lepers, even military personnel, and of course widows.
These are still the same people we find on the margins of our society today. Those who still are excluded, those who society looks down on or simply ignores. A widow giving her all to a corrupt institution, an institution that fails to care for her as it is supposed to do. But she gives anyway. And Jesus commends her giving. He commends her and condemns the system. Jesus holds her up as an example of how small but significant acts can break down a cycle of injustice and corruption.
This gospel lesson is not a comparative giving table, steering and challenging the prosperous to give more. It is encouragement for those who go against the grain, who practice subversion in whatever way they can, even in the face of injustice. Who, by their subversion, make inroads into creating justice and fairness for all of God’s children. It doesn’t always take placards and a lot of shouting in the streets for trends and policies to be reversed and changed. Persistent, simple subversion also does the trick. Sounds kinda radical to me!
I.) We often hear the latter part of our text separated out and interpreted as heroic, sacrificial giving of a poor widow.
A.) “The Widow’s mite” has even become a colloquial phrase referring to a meager contribution that has far more value than its smallness might indicate.
1. Actually something far more profound happens here.
2. A careful reading is possible when this text is retained as a whole, instead of separating verses 41 to 44 from verses 38-40.
3. The widow’s contribution is contextualized, she is contributing to a system that routinely oppresses her under the guise of piety.
Example: Notice verse 40, “who devours widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
3. In a profound way, she acts with nobility and self-sacrifice, and she contributes to an unjust system!
4. She gives all that she has to support a system that will take away all that she has.
5. Talk about a truly tragic situation that faces this widow, because her means of practicing true piety is at the same time a system that is devoid of justice and will, in turn, exploit her.
II.) Telling the whole story means that this text addresses the situation of living tragically yet faithfully within oppressive systems and societies.
A.) The context of oppression can be a place where one makes self-denying contributions toward the common good.
1. We often struggle with those who point out the flaws within the system we think of as working well.
2. Some other areas we may struggle with are the exploitative economic systems of the world.
3. Those living within a militaristic system that often overreaches and destroys.
Example: Our sister Erika Bergman knew something of just such a system when she and her family left extended family and fled East Germany during the cold war era. Any system, no matter how noble it may seem, is not beyond such oppression of its people.
4. Since we are in the political season and things are already overheated for next years presidential race, how often do we support a less than perfect candidate just because they are the least imperfect of the ones we have to choose from?
B.) Keeping Jesus’ critique of the scribes, who devour widows’ houses, together with his praise of the widow, who gives all she has, allows a reflection on our part of the ethical struggles that humanity has wrestled with down through the ages.
1. The Bible says at one point that “there is nothing new under the sun,”(Ecc. 1:9) what a true statement in all aspects of life!
2. Let’s take just a moment to consider the widow in the story.
3. Look at her, really look at her, she is a non-person with an insignificant contribution.
4. She is our teacher, not the wealthy!
5. It is easy NOT to notice the non-impressive, non-people in our world, but they have very important stuff to teach us.
6. The lesson we must take from this story is just this, it is very simple, are you ready for it? Here it comes, FAITH!
Conclusion to message: The challenge I take away from this powerful story is just this, faith. Who and what do we choose to put our faith and trust in?
A long time ago now I met a man and he changed the course of my life. His presence with me each and every day and his word to me is the constant that I know I can trust without worry that it will let me down. People come and people go in our lives. When it comes right down to it, trust Jesus the Christ with everything in your life, including life itself! Amen.