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Intersection

Rev. Reebee Girash
Sun, Nov 11

The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Psalm 146; Mark 12: 38-44

These two passages, Psalm 146 and Mark 12, come to us as suggested lectionary readings for today, in addition to a passage from Ruth, in which Naomi advises Ruth about how to improve the situation of their family. There is an intersection in these three passages, and the intersection is this: widows. Three texts, and four references to widows. I have to wonder, if the guys who developed the revised common lectionary thought: every third year, in stewardship season, let’s get preachers to talk about poor widows.

In all three of these texts, you can read the widow as being vulnerable. In the Psalm, the Lord is said to uphold the widow, who needs help, and who is listed alongside folks who are oppressed, hungry, imprisoned, blind, bowed down. This is key to God’s vision of the world, or the little sliver of it we see in the Psalm – what God is going to do to help the vulnerable; the implicit request of us to help the vulnerable. On Friday night, at the service with the Hispanic Baptist Church, I said:

God offers a special measure of love to these people. They sound very close to the people Jesus offered special attention to, don’t they? Blessed are you who are poor; blessed are you who are hungry. I hear an instruction within this Psalm: we are to love as God loves, love those whom God loves, give special attention and care to:

The oppressed.
The hungry.
The imprisoned.
The blind.
Those who are bowed down.
The strangers.
The orphans.
The widows.

What could righteousness be, but to love all of God’s children as God loves them, according to the example of God’s love and God’s special care?

But, on Friday night I was preaching about what God does for the widow. This morning we have an intersection: what the widow does for God, and what the widow does for herself. In Ruth, Naomi and Ruth move from being objects to being agents of their own wellbeing, a reasonably subversive notion for the time in which they lived. And then there’s the widow in our Gospel.

42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 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. 44 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."

Jesus says in many other places, take care of the poor, the widows, the orphans, the sick and the vulnerable. Right the wrongs that lead to poverty and injustice. But here he says: admire the widow. Look at the choice she made. You make that kind of choice. She is a model, not a charity case
.
This is not to say, this widow is a model because she is poor, or that poverty is acceptable to Jesus. It is not. This is the guy who said, Blessed are the poor: but woe to you who are rich, for you have received your reward. This is the guy who said, the tables will be upturned and the last will be first and the first will be last and the heavenly banquet will be the place where everyone has enough. In fact I would say this passage does not concern poverty or economic justice. Jesus goes there elsewhere. Yet when we read the story of a first century Palestinian widow, we go to the question of poverty and oppression.

Rev. Heidi Neumark regards this tension in the text this way:

“Is Jesus lifting her up as a blessed example or denouncing a system of holy inequality? I don’t think we have to choose….every penny shared…honors God, loves neighbor, and resists dehumanization – so does the stewardship of our labors to change a system that begets misery. We might see it as two sides of the same coin.” (Christian Century, October 31, 2012)

But getting back to the this woman, her choice and her coins:

Jesus highlights this woman as a model because of the choice she makes in the midst of poverty. Jesus expects nothing less of anyone who is faithful: he expects no less of the rich than he does of the poor.
The scribes, they give what winds up being spare change, because they want to look good and to be admired. The widow gives because she loves God. There must have been something that moved her spirit toward giving: maybe it was gratitude, generosity, hope? She gave not only her first fruits but all she could give.

It cannot be a coincidence that Jesus points out this widow just a few verses after he tells what the greatest commandments are:

12:30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.'
The second is this, (12:31) 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
There is no other commandment greater than these."

The widow gives because she loves God with all her heart, soul, mind and strength. Everything she has.

Jesus calls us to give not because we will feel or look good, or because people will notice us, but because we love God and believe in God’s vision of a just and peaceful, loving world.

And doesn’t it turn out that God can do more with gifts given by generous and loving hearts, who want to be part of the building up of God’s reign, than gifts given by folks who want to look good.

Here at church, very few people know how much you pledge. That’s intentional. Yes, a few people need to know for budgeting purposes what you think you may be able to contribute in the next year, so that in the aggregate we can budget. But in this place, there’s not a ticker running on the bottom of the fundraising screen – thanks to Roseanne who’s giving five thousand dollars this year! There’s not an annual report that puts you in different categories. (For my college I am in the Maize and Blue Club, although to look good, I know I ought to get into the Presidents Club, or even better the 1866 Associates.) In church, it turns out we mean it when we repeat Jesus’ words:

Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.

It turns out that we value every single gift, whether it’s five dollars a week or ten thousand dollars this year, because we recognize pledges as an indicator of your faith, your commitment to being part of something greater than yourself, your gratitude for the blessings of your life and this church, and of your abundant generosity. And to prove that we value each gift equally, we don’t shine the spotlight on the biggest givers. Instead we say to each other:

Happy are those whose hope is in the Lord their God.

Together, acting in common and for the common good, with glad and generous hearts, we believe we can do great things. We dare to believe that in our giving of time, talents and treasure, we can move the world just a bit toward the vision God has for us and for all God’s children and for God’s very own creation. This is why we make the choice to give. Amen.

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