The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Mark 12:38-44

THE STORY OF THE WIDOW’S MITE IS SO FAMILIAR TO US ALL, SINCE WE HAVE HEARD IT IN SUNDAY SCHOOL, AND IT IS OFTEN USED AS A TEXT FOR STEWARDSHIP SUNDAY. WHILE IT DOES HAVE IMPLICATIONS OF STEWARDSHIP, THERE IS MUCH MORE GOING ON THAN JUST THAT. JESUS WAS LECTURING HIS DISCIPLES ABOUT THE BEHAVIOR OF THE SCRIBES; THE ONES WHO WERE EXPERTS IN THE LAW AND TAUGHT THE LAWS OF GOD TO OTHERS. HE SEVERELY CRITICIZED THEIR HYPOCRISY AND SELF-IMPORTANCE, ALWAYS WANTING THE BEST SEATS AND PLACES OF HONOR, WHILE THEY OPPRESSED THE WEAK AND THE POOR. THE WEAKEST OF ALL WERE WIDOWS, BECAUSE THEY HAD NO ONE TO PROVIDE FOR THEM. THEY SWINDLED WIDOWS OUT OF THEIR HOMES, WHILE THEY SAID LONG PRAYERS TO SHOW HOW RIGHTEOUS THEY WERE.

WHEN HE SAT DOWN OPPOSITE THE TREASURY OF THE TEMPLE, HE WATCHED THE PEOPLE PUTTING THEIR OFFERINGS INTO THE TRUMPET SHAPED DEPOSITORY. ONE COULD TELL HOW MUCH WAS BEING OFFERED BY THE SOUND OF THE COINS RINGING ON THE WAY DOWN THE TUBES. THE IMPLICATION IS THAT MANY RICH PEOPLE WERE POURING THEIR OFFERINGS IN A WAY THAT WOULD PROLONG THE RINGING TO SHOW HOW MUCH THEY WERE GIVING. THEN, A POOR WIDOW CAME AND PUT IN TWO SMALL COINS, WITH THE TINY SOUND OF “PLINK, PLINK.” THE SOUND WOULD HAVE BEEN UNNOTICED IN THE NOISE OF THE CROWD, AS WOULD HAVE BEEN THE WIDOW. JESUS NOTICED, HOWEVER, AND CALLED HIS DISCIPLES TO NOTICE, AND CONTRASTED THE GIVING OF RICH, FOR WHOM IT MEANT NOTHING EXCEPT AS A MEANS OF GAINING STATUS, AND THE GIVING OF THE WIDOW, FOR WHOM IT MEANT EVERYTHING.

WHEN I WAS 15, MY CATHOLIC RELATIVES CAME TO VISIT, AND I WAS TASKED WITH TAKING THEM TO EASTER SERVICES AT ST. ROCCO’S (I LOVE THAT NAME- SOUNDS LIKE A SAINT WITH BRASS KNUCKLES). WHEN THE TIME CAME FOR THE OFFERING, THE USHERS HAD BASKETS ON LONG POLES THAT THEY PUSHED DOWN THE PEWS FOR THE PEOPLE TO PUT IN THEIR OFFERING. AS A TEENAGER FROM A POOR FAMILY IN 1961, I HAD TWO QUARTERS IN MY POCKET. I GLADLY TOSSED THEM BOTH INTO THE BASKET. LITTLE DID I KNOW THAT THERE WAS TO BE A SECOND OFFERING AT THAT SERVICE. WHEN THE USHER WITH THE BASKET ON THE POLE CAME A SECOND TIME, I TRIED NOT TO MAKE EYE CONTACT, BUT HE HELD THE BASKET IN FRONT OF ME AND SHOOK IT, MAKING THE COINS JINGLE. I HAD GIVEN ALL I HAD, BUT HE KEPT SHAKING THAT DARN BASKET IN FRONT OF ME, WHICH CAUSED EVERYONE IN THE VICINITY TO LOOK RIGHT AT ME. I WANTED TO CRAWL UNDER THE PEW. FINALLY, RED FACED, I LOOKED AT THE USHER AND SHOOK MY HEAD. WITH A HUFF, HE WENT AWAY.

THAT’S ENOUGH ABOUT ME. LET ME TELL YOU THE STORY OF RUTH. NOT THE RUTH IN OUR FIRST LESSON, ALTHOUGH THAT IS AN INTERESTING STORY ABOUT NAOMI, A WIDOW, TRYING TO FIGURE OUT A WAY FOR HER AND RUTH TO SURVIVE. I WANT TO TELL YOU THE STORY OF RUTH OF GRACE CATHEDRAL. YOU NEWCOMERS WON’T KNOW HER, BUT THE OLD HANDS SHOULD REMEMBER HER. SHE DIED ABOUT TWO YEARS AGO. SHE WAS A SEVERELY HANDICAPPED WOMAN, WHEEL CHAIR BOUND, WITH HEAVILY DISFIGURED FEET. SHE ALSO HAD EMOTIONAL AND PERSONALITY ISSUES THAT WERE AT TIMES QUITE OFF-PUTTING TO SOME. LIVING ON DISABILITY PAYMENTS IN PUBLIC HOUSING, SHE WAS DEPENDENT ON THE METRO TO PICK HER UP FOR WORSHIP; WHICH MEANT SHE OFTEN CAME IN LATE AND DISRUPTED THE SERMON AS SHE STRUGGLED TO GET FROM HER CHAIR TO THE PEW. ALL IN ALL, NOT A PERSON MOST PEOPLE WOULD WANT TO KNOW OR EVEN NOTICE.

ONE SUNDAY, MY JOYCE, WHO USUALLY SAT RIGHT BEHIND HER TO HELP HER WHEN NEEDED, NOTICED HER INDEED. WHEN THE USHER CAME BY, RUTH DUG DOWN INTO THE BOTTOM OF HER PURSE TO GRAB WHAT COINS SHE HAD. WHEN SHE DROPPED THEM INTO THE OFFERING PLATE, SHE IMMEDIATELY DUG DOWN IN HER BAG AGAIN. THE USHER KINDLY WAITED AS SHE FUMBLINGLY ROOTED AROUND, UNTIL SHE CAME UP WITH THE LAST OF THE COINS IN HER PURSE, AND PUT THEM INTO THE PLATE. RUTH WASN’T A WIDOW, BUT SHE FREELY GAVE ALL THAT SHE HAD TO GIVE.

THE POINT THAT JESUS MADE TO HIS DISCIPLES WAS THIS; IT IS NOT WHAT YOU GIVE, BUT HOW YOU GIVE IT. THE RICH GAVE OUT OF THEIR ABUNDANCE; IT MEANT NOTHING TO THEM AND HAD NO EFFECT ON THEM, OTHER THAN AS A MEANS TO BE NOTICED. UNNOTICED BY ALL EXCEPT JESUS, THE WIDOW GAVE ALL THAT SHE HAD, AND SO GAVE HERSELF OVER COMPLETELY TO THE CARE OF GOD. IN SO DOING, SHE EXEMPLIFIED WHAT JESUS WAS ABOUT TO DO; TO GIVE EVERYTHING HE HAD, EVEN HIS OWN LIFE, AS AN OFFERING, AND GIVE HIMSELF OVER COMPLETELY TO THE CARE OF GOD.

SO THE STORY OF THE WIDOW’S MITE IS NOT JUST ABOUT STEWARDSHIP, BUT ABOUT HOW WE ARE TO LIVE. TO LIVE BY TRUSTING IN OURSELVES, OR TO LIVE BY TRUSTING IN GOD, OFFERING UP OUR SELVES, OUR SOULS AND BODIES AND ALL THAT WE HAVE TO OUR LORD AND GOD: THAT’S THE REAL POINT OF THE STORY.

AMEN

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