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

 


THE STORY OF THE WIDOW’S MITE IS ONE OF THE MOST FAMILIAR TO ANYONE WHO HAS BEEN IN A CHURCH FOR A WHILE, ESPECIALLY DURING STEWARDSHIP SEASON. SINCE THIS STORY IS OUT OF PLACE IN THE TIMELINE OF THE GOSPEL OF MARK, THOSE WHO PRODUCED THE LECTIONARY OBVIOUSLY PLACED IT HERE FOR THE PURPOSE OF ENCOURAGING GOOD STEWARDSHIP FOR THE COMING YEAR. SURELY YOU HAVE ALL HEARD THE INTERPRETATION OF THIS STORY AS, “IF A POOR WIDOW CAN DEMONSTRATE SACRIFICIAL GIVING, WE ALL SHOULD DIG A LITTLE DEEPER AND GIVE MORE.” WE HEAR STUFF LIKE THAT AND WE SINK DOWN IN OUR PEWS A BIT AND SQUIRM WITH GUILT, BECAUSE WE KNOW WE CAN’T GIVE AWAY ALL THAT WE HAVE TO LIVE ON. WE END UP FEELING LIKE THE RICH YOUNG MAN WHO COULD NOT GIVE AWAY ALL THAT HE HAD TO THE POOR AND FOLLOW JESUS. SO I WILL STAND UP BEFORE YOU TODAY AND TELL YOU THAT THIS STORY HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH STEWARDSHIP; ITS MEANING IS ENTIRELY DIFFERENT.

THIS INCIDENT TAKES PLACE IN THE LAST WEEK OF JESUS’ MORTAL LIFE. HE HAS ALREADY MOCKED THE POMP AND GRANDEUR OF ROME BY ENTERING JERUSALEM IN A GRAND PARADE BY RIDING ON A DONKEY. HE HAS WHIPPED THE MONEY CHANGERS OUT OF THE TEMPLE COURTYARD. HE HAS CONFUSED THE TEMPLE AUTHORITIES WITH HIS RESPONSE TO WHETHER IT IS RIGHT TO PAY TAXES TO ROME BY SAYING, “RENDER UNTO CAESAR WHAT IS CAESAR’S AND TO GOD WHAT IS GOD’S.” HE HAS CONFOUNDED THE SCRIBES BY HIS TEACHING TO THE POINT THAT THE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES WANT TO KILL HIM, SO THEY BEGIN TO PLOT HIS DEATH. NOW, HE HAS JUST TOLD HIS DISCIPLES TO BEWARE OF THE SCRIBES, WHO LIKE TO WALK AROUND IN LONG ROBES, BE GREETED WITH RESPECT IN THE MARKET PLACE, AND TAKE THE BEST SEATS IN THE SYNAGOGUES AND AT BANQUETS. THEIR PIETY IS A SHAM, BECAUSE WHILE THEY LOOK GOOD AND APPEAR RIGHTEOUS, THEY OPPRESS THE PEOPLE, EVEN SCAMMING WIDOWS OUT OF THE ONLY THING THEY HAVE LEFT; THEIR HOMES.

THE PROSPECT FOR A WIDOW IN FIRST CENTURY JUDEA WAS NOT GOOD AT ALL. IF SHE DID NOT HAVE A SON OR MALE RELATIVE TO CARE FOR HER, SHE WAS DESTITUTE. SHE COULD NOT WORK, SO HER ONLY RECOURSE WAS TO BEG, BECOME A PROSTITUTE, OR RELY ON THE CHARITY THE TEMPLE WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE PROVIDED. YET, THE ONES WHO WERE IN CHARGE OF THE CHARITY SYSTEM WERE STEALING FROM THOSE THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO HELP. THIS IS WHY JESUS’ COMMENTS ABOUT THE SCRIBES ARE SO CAUSTIC, AND WHY HE SITS DOWN TO WATCH THE CROWD PUTTING MONEY INTO THE TREASURY; MONEY THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO HELP THE POOR BUT DID NOT GET TO THEM.

THE TREASURY WAS FED BY A SYSTEM OF WHAT LOOKED LIKE HORNS, OR TRUMPETS, SO THAT WHEN COINS WERE POURED INTO THEM THEY WOULD CLINK AND RATTLE AS THEY WENT DOWN THE SHAFT. THE SOUND WAS LIKE THAT OF THOSE COIN CHANGING MACHINES AT THE SUPERMARKET. THE LOUDER THE SOUND MEANT THAT MORE MONEY WAS PUT IN, AND YOU CAN BET THE RICH PEOPLE LIKED TO HEAR THE SOUND OF THEIR CONTRIBUTION. UNNOTICED, EXCEPT BY JESUS, A POOR WIDOW CAME AND PUT IN TWO SMALL COPPER COINS; JUST A “CLINK, CLINK,” AND SHE WAS DONE.

JESUS NOTICES THE WIDOW. HE SEES WHAT EVERYONE ELSE IS TOO IMPORTANT, TOO SPIRITUAL, TOO SELF-ABSORBED TO SEE. THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS OF THIS STORY – THAT THE EYES OF JESUS ARE EVER ON THE SMALL, THE INSIGNIFICANT, THE POOR, AND THE DESTITUTE. WHAT OTHERS CAN NOT SEE, OR WILL NOT SEE, THE EYES OF THE LORD DO NOT MISS. WHAT HE SEES IS THAT WHILE OTHERS GIVE WHAT THEY THINK THEY CAN SPARE OUT OF THEIR ABUNDANCE, SHE PUTS IN ALL THAT SHE HAS. THE GREEK IS VERY CLEAR; SHE PUTS IN “ALL HER LIVING.” ONE MIGHT VERY WELL ASK WHY SHE WOULD DO SUCH A THING. THE POOR DID NOT HAVE TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE TREASURY, THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO RELY ON THE CHARITY OF THE TEMPLE; YET THAT CHARITY HAD FAILED THEM. STILL SHE CAME TO THE TEMPLE OF THE GOD SHE LOVED, IN THE HOPE THAT HER SMALL GIFT MIGHT FIND FAVOR IN THE EYES OF GOD; AND HER LORD, THOUGH SHE KNOWS HIM NOT, SEES AND ACKNOWLEDGES THE VALUE OF HER GIFT.

THIS IS NOT A STEWARDSHIP STORY; IT IS A STORY CONDEMNING THE HYPOCRISY OF FALSE RELIGION AND FAKE PIETY. SUCH A SYSTEM IS AGAINST ALL THAT OUR LOVING GOD HOLDS DEAR; WHICH IS WHY HE SENT HIS ONLY SON TO SHOW US THE WAY TO TRUE RELIGION AND TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS BY RELYING SOLELY ON GOD’S GRACE. SUCH A CORRUPT SYSTEM CAN NOT STAND, AND YOU WILL HEAR JESUS DRIVE HOME THIS POINT NEXT SUNDAY. THE WIDOW’S COSTLY GIFT IS A PROPHETIC DENUNCIATION OF CORRUPTION AND INJUSTICE. IN SPITE OF ALL THAT IS GOING ON AROUND HER, SHE ACTS OUT THE WORD OF GOD. WITHOUT SAYING A WORD, SHE SPEAKS THE WORDS OF ISAIAH, ELIJAH, HOSEA, AND ALL THE PROPHETS; TO DO JUSTICE AND MERCY, AND WALK HUMBLY BEFORE YOUR GOD.

JESUS POINTS OUT THIS WIDOW BECAUSE SHE IS, IN THE MIDST OF HYPOCRISY AND CORRUPTION, FAITHFUL AND TRUE IN THE SERVICE OF GOD. THE POOR WIDOW GAVE EVERYTHING TO SERVE HER GOD IN A WORLD SO BROKEN THAT IT WILL LET HER DIE. IN A FEW DAYS, JESUS WILL GIVE EVERYTHING TO SAVE, REDEEM, AND RENEW THIS BROKEN WORLD. THIS IS NOT A STORY ABOUT DIGGING DEEPER INTO YOUR POCKETS, BUT A STORY ABOUT DIGGING DEEPER INTO YOUR SOULS; TO BE FAITHFUL AND TRUE TO YOUR LORD AND GOD, EVEN UNTO DEATH. AMEN