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Sermon for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost - November 11 2018

Sermon for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
November 11, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Psalm127; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

There are a number of ways we can look at this situation of the scribe, the rich donors, and the widow.

First, the rich donors give a lot of money.  Goodness knows, the institution needs it and can certainly make good use of it!  So the scribe gets the eager and fawning attention and the admiration of onlookers.

No one, except Jesus, sees that widow put in her two cents worth – and why should they?  Her gift is so small as to be practically useless, what good can it do?

So that would be the apparent reaction of the crowds around the temple, as Mark presents the story.

But there’s more.

If we are trained in questions of God’s justice, we see the rich scribe giving a limited gift – one that doesn’t really cost him anything at all; he gives from his abundance but can still afford nice clothes, a nice home, and he won’t be going hungry tonight.

She, on the other hand, hoo-boy, she is making a sacrificial gift, one that not only can but will certainly hurt her, as it is all she has to live on!

So you can see that it’s easy for us to read this gospel and mock that rich scribe and praise the poor widow on the basis of their proportional giving – he gives a lot, out of his abundance, and it causes him no distress at all, while she gives a little, out of her poverty, and it costs her everything.

But wait, there’s more!

The money is going into the Temple coffers.  So if we admire the widow, then we put the greater burden on her – the poor must give all, while the rich don’t have to.  How “just” is that?  It’s like a flat tax – 10% of a million dollars is nothing, but 10% of a hundred dollars can be a devastating loss. 

So now we see that widow in a new light – the light of self-negation and self-destruction, and if we remember that God loves the oppressed (and otherwise, why did all those prophets tell all those kings and rulers down the years to take care of the widows and orphans?), then we might see that the whole give-to-the-temple system is rigged, in a sense, to keep the poor in poverty.  And who rigged it?  Was it not those with the social, political, and economic resources to set the rules?  Does that have a familiar ring perhaps?

But wait, there’s even more!

Dr. Emilie M. Townes, formerly the Dean of Students at Yale Divinity School and now the Dean of the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University, is a “womanist” theologian – which is a side-step both from feminist theology and liberation theology – it is a view of the Scriptures and God from the global perspective of women of color. 

From that tradition, Dr. Townes suggests that another way to approach this vignette, this comparison between the scribes and the rich on the one hand and the widow on the other, is to dump the implied language – and definition – of a sacrifice being made here – which in turn implies some kind of suffering – which we can certainly expect here, as she gave “all she has to live on” – and to substitute the concept of offering instead.

And what the widow is offering, Dr Townes suggests, is not simply all she has but all she is.  Those two copper coins are not just money, but are the representation of her faith.

Dr Townes writes: “Those coins represent more than money.  They represent faith and belief and how these must be lived out in our lives in concrete acts and not solely by rituals that no longer hold religious power …

“The coins represent faith-filled offerings found in presenting all of who we are and all we hope to become to God for service in the world.  Indeed, offering in this sense is something other than prayer, tithes, Eucharist or Communion.  It is not so much the act of giving or receiving as it is the act of being.”[1]

The widow’s whole life is in those coins.  She offers her whole life to the love of God.

And the scribe and the rich folks?  Not so much – they withhold more than they give, their “acts of being” are not an offering; instead they speak of selfishness and greed.

And in case that is not enough to chew on – wait, there’s still more.

Jesus, in calling the widow’s “act of being” as being total, absolute, unstinting and everything, sets an incredibly high bar for the rest of us.  it is a standard few of us would want to meet, if we are honest with ourselves, but it is the one he sets before us, not only through this widow, but in his own acts of being.  In his willingness to face the cross.  With God there are no half-way measures of love.  And that’s the kind of love we are asked to model to the world.

So Dr Townes asks, “How can we take the grace and hope we find in the wine and bread and make it live in our lives in ways that not only sustain us, but model for others the enormous power of offering all of who we are to the rest of creation?”[2]

Well, there is more (there is always more), but I think that perhaps this is enough for today.

I would invite us to consider “what it means to put in[to our living] everything we have, all that we have to live on as people of faith.”[3]

And if our lives are those two coins, if those coins represent each person, if they represent all we have and all we are, can we find the coins that represent other people, too?  Can we appreciate their value, their value in God’s eyes, in new ways?

And that’s the question I will just leave hanging….

 

 

[1] Emilie M. Townes, “Mark 12:38-44,” in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4. Kindle edition 10184-10188.  Emphasis added.

[2] Ibid., Kindle 10192.

[3] Ibid., Kindle 10196