As he taught, he said, “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.” 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.”
I am not allowed to pray at my in-laws house anymore. During one of our early holidays together Meredith and I went to her grandparent’s house in Austin, Texas. I was extremely eager to please them and wore by best clothes and sought to impress them with my best behavior. I charmed them with my knowledge of Longhorn football. I dazzled them with my ability to speak about their beloved Spurs. I tried out a joke or two.
When dinner rolled around I was offered the honor of blessing our meal. There I was bowing my head with a multitude of thoughts racing in my head. I hope Meredith’s family likes me. I hope I was not too much. I am hungry! I hope my prayer is acceptable. I wonder what is for desert. I am going to make this prayer a good one.
I hold silence for a moment I take a deep then I pray…I pray for the hungry children of Papua New Guinea. I pray for the homeless untouchables in India. I pray for the abandoned young men of the Fundamentalist Latter-Day church. I pray for the economic woes of single mothers. I pray for the injustice to leave the hearts of the wicked and powerful. I evoke Gods presence upon our meal that we may never forget those saints that have gone before us. I weave my words into a basket of awesome! I am on a party line with God and I am sharing the joy with all that have ears to hear…just as I am warming up to really get going…
I hear an Amen and then a chorus of Amen’s. Only the AMEN did not come from me. I open my eyes expecting to see a bunch of Texas-sized smiles and a world transformed by this awesome prayer I unleashed, only to find a hungry, perturbed grandfather with the kindest of eyes and a scotch on the rocks that says to me, “Ryan, that was a beautiful prayer but the food is getting cold.”
In our text for today we get my favorite gospel, Mark. We get a very popular parable, often called “The Widow’s Mite & “The Denouncing of the Scribes.” We encounter something that could be summed up as a prohibition of doughty religious practice and exploitation of the poor and vulnerable.
When you look at the passages before this and after today’s passages you get a whole lot of Jesus speaking truth and preparing the way for his eventual death on Golgotha and very little understanding of what Jesus is saying. The scribes are one of the groups Jesus is playing 20 questions with.
The scribes are not intentionally bad people. There are a people that have lived in a way that respects and honors accuracy and reproduction. They are the lawyers of their time. Leading up to verse 38 of the 12th chapter of Mark the scribes are acting rather “lawyer” like. They are quizzing Jesus seeking a place to grasp and understand the law he was offering…a lot of talking going on, some listening, and very little understanding happening there at all
We would not associate ourselves with the scribes nor would we want to be grouped in with the scribes. It is a difficult prospect to paint the scribes in any other light except for a negative one. The scribes as a whole are on the wrong side of Jesus’ good news.
The scribes were not bad, as much as they were disconnected from others…It is the connections, the communities, the relationships that make us good or bad. Bernard Malmud the famous author says, “that ones humanity is based in ones community.”
This is the point the Jesus keeps offering to the people and they keep missing it. The scribes condemnation is based in the distance that their actions produce. The actions of devouring widow’s houses, the long robes, and long prayers separate them from others. Their actions build invisible and not so invisible walls. They live in a world of insider & outsiders. With them there is a definitive right and wrong.
We think of ourselves as on the right side of Jesus. That we are doing good in this world. Perhaps, as others are doing bad. Why else would we offer our day here together to proclaim a Christ that demands community?
When we focus upon doing good over the focus of making connections and forming community we walk the line between being a scribe and being the widow. We can trace many well-intentioned Christians seeking to do good in colonial expansion. Doing good and bringing the good news was the mantra of those brave souls that became missionaries to the Southern Hemisphere. Very few sought to go therefore and make sisters and brothers of those you may encounter. It is in the focus of doing over connecting that the condemnation of the scribes be witnessed in their actions.
Jesus is calling us all to a place of non-division. There is no “US” & “THEM” is the good news. It is for all. This parable when witnessed from a place of non-division offers us a look at ourselves that can be unnerving. When you hear this text do you want to be on the side of righteousness?
The scribes folly lies in the idea that the obligation stops at financial support. That being a good steward can be solved with a checkbook. Jesus demands more from us than a financial obligation. There is a financial obligation present. It does not exceed the obligation we have to each other. We are called first to love one another. We are first called to lift each other in prayer. We are first called to strive with each other, to be iron sharpening iron. From this the financial obligation flows…
We avoid the scribes condemnation in our desire to be with each other. We deny the temptation to be separated from each other so that we may become dependent upon each other. That the least of us may have abundance. We sacrifice all, acknowledging that it was not ours in the first place. We live into the widow’s mite.
The glory of the widow’s mite is in the dependence that her giving has cost! She gave it all away and now she is dependent, intimately dependent upon others for survival. Where the scribes many pick and chose their community the widow must open her heart to all that come.
There was this young woman. She did not have very much in her name. She was very active in her church. She struggled to make ends meet. She gave when she could. She worried that her faith community would not be around much longer if money did not come their way. Mostly she worked and prayed for a better life.
She bought a lottery ticket with the idea that she could give it to her church and end her financial struggle. She waited with anticipation for the numbers to be drawn. To her surprise she matched all of the numbers and won millions. She then paid all of her bills, set up and trust fund for the church.
The church grew and stuck around for years. She was able to got to school and get a degree. She found herself with less time. She slowly became less active in her church. She found herself only showing up on Sundays. Soon the community she had loved became a memory. The better life she prayed for had left her.
The moral to this story is that money does not matter. The treasure that she had lie in the community that embraced her and that she embraced. God does not value money. God values relationships.
When you begin to peel back the layers of obligation Jesus holds the scribes to then we are no longer free from the condemnation. The abundance and excess of our culture divides and condemns. The world tells us to offer from our abundance. The world tells us we get what we give. The world does not uphold the vision to which we are called…a world where the pennies of a widow exceed the millions of the rich.
The tricky thing about all of this is that our faith…our call to righteousness…our call to justice…our call to community…they often clash with our greatest of intentions. We mean well. We fully expect to do good. Yet in hindsight we may discover our lives look more like that of the scribes than that of the widow.
Living like the widow is a constant choice to be in relationship. To eat with the hungry and not just provide them food. To build relationships with the naked and not just provide them clothes. To step outside of the norms we live in to live the norms of others. To remove ourselves from the center of our understanding and center upon the grace of Jesus the Christ.
We can live the loving kindness, the doing justice, & the humble walking. To live like the widow will cost you everything. We have made a decision to live as the widow…we have joined CLOUT so that injustice will not rest on the heads of our sisters and brothers. We seek to build a church where ALL may serve. We seek marriage equality so that Gods love may be recognized in ALL hearts.
We are no longer focused upon doing justice as much as we are proclaiming justice in the life we lead. We move from “All the Good that Won’t Come Out of Me” to All the Good that Will Come Out of Us. In this the widow’s mite moves over us. When God comes calling we will take no time in responding, “Here we Are!”