- Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
- Psalm 127
- 1 Kings 17:8-16
- Psalm 146
- Hebrews 9:24-28
- Mark 12:38-44
Today’s lesson: there are no verses, chapters, paragraphs or, even, punctuation in the original text.
If you’ve spent any time in Church, you know how this Gospel sermon runs. Here’s a visible parable
See? She puts in more than all these rich people because she has given all she has… then something comes up about tithing or, maybe, about giving all you have. If I, the preacher, am a televangelist, I might add something about God blessing you for giving him your money and then I would post an address on the screen. When I was growing up this seemed a revolutionary development: that a poor person could out-give a Rockefeller or a Roosevelt, a Trump or a Gates. Truly, God must love the poor! Then some pun about “the widow’s mite (coin) becomes the widow’s might”.
Our Revised Common Lectionary spun my sermon on its head, however. Because…
Lookit: verse 38 he says “Beware the religious leaders because they like to wear special clothing and sit at the high table at feasts (vs 39). They do this by stealing widows houses. (vs 40)” Saying so, he watches the rich put money in piles at the temple gate (vrs 41) and along comes this widow who gives everything she has! (Verse 42)
Jesus’ math makes perfect sense: it’s not revolutionary at all. It’s simple percentages. Of course, giving everything she has, she’s given more than all those rich people. But Jesus makes no comments praising her for it. Instead he’s already condemned the rich who made her give all she had.
If you read forward, past our assigned reading, and REMEMBER: there are no paragraph breaks or verses in the original text… Read forward and the next lines are about how worthless the Temple is anyway.
I’m sorry, but this story is NOT about giving all your money to the Church.
Let me move two verses to a different location. See it if reads differently now:
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. 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.” As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
I don’t think this is about giving all your money to God. I think this is about being wary of religious leaders who want you to give all your money to God and, instead, end up getting the money themselves.
This is the argument I have whenever someone wants to build a beautiful Temple, use real gold leaf on icons, or spend more money on a set of vestments than a poor family can spend in one year on clothes: “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” We make idols out of our churches when we value the churches more than we value our neighbours; that is, God.
Of course, sometimes = as twice in the last year – the religious leaders are just taking the money to make political hey: to aggrandise themselves at the expense of others. These buildings too, will fall down eventually.
When we take the widow’s mite we don’t bless her: we condemn ourselves. We make an idol of the physical plant, of the stuff we have. God tells us to share our stuff with the poor. Not make the poor pay for more of it!!!!
I’ve been blessed to worship in some beautiful buildings. The best was (a) the Church of St Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco, CA; and (b) St Seraphim Church in Santa Rosa, CA. Things there are VERY beautiful, in different ways and in different styles. But they, too, will one day fall down. And, to be honest, most modern churches are nowhere near as beautiful as St Gregory’s or St Seraphim’s: most are just high-tech entertainment studios with cushy chairs. A church community, the family of communion, is not supposed to have 30,000 members…
The best liturgies I remember are with Fr Joseph, in Hendersonville, served in his house or in the houses of other members of the parish. The dining table was the altar. The choir standing to one side and everyone else gathered around. These liturgies were celebrated in stressful and painful times, but these liturgies were beautiful. Simple. Well done. And later we sat down at the same table and ate our meal or held our parish meeting. That’s the cool thing about Eastern liturgy: as stately and ornate as it becomes, it still boils down to something done around a dining table.
We need liturgy, we need beauty in which to worship, I know that. But for us – as for the earliest disciples – the beauty of a clean home, filled with feasting friends should be enough. Those parishioners and Fr Joseph: giving their all – not to build things that would waste away, but to be the Church in that place. That’s the widow’s might!