11/11/2018 Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Mark 12:38-44.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s gospel is one that is familiar to most of us. It is the story dubbed as the widow’s mite. This story has been the fodder of many stewardship sermons. It has been used to try to convince people to pony up more money to meet the ministry needs of the church. But, as I’ve grown older and maybe a bit wiser, I am convinced that using this story in this way has never been helpful. In fact, using it in this way has probably turns the focus away from the message Jesus is trying to get across.
Does the story have to do with money? Of course it does. Does the story have anything to do with giving to the work of the church? Of course…for the money is being place in the coffers at the temple. But, the story has more to do with an act faith than it does with money – as it shows us what faith in action looks like.
To Jesus, faith in action is not found in the behavior of the scribes who are part of the religious elite. Yes, they pray often. Yes, they attend services on a regular basis. Yes, they follow the law and give generously…even if it is out of abundance and therefore a smaller percentage of what they have. Yes, they believe in God and spend their time worshipping him. But at the same time, the scribes like to flaunt their position within the community and get the best seats in the synagogue and banquets. They expect or rather demand respect for they believe they deserve it because their position makes them closer to God. Of course, Jesus knows that this is not so…and we know it too. I am no closer to God than you. The bishop is no closer to God than any of us. God love us all and doesn’t choose favorites. But that is not how the scribes see it.
The scribes believe they should be rewarded for their religious work. And this means that they spend a lot of time focusing on themselves. They ignore the needs of those less fortunate and somehow feel that they have a right to even take away what little the widows have to live on. Truly, Jesus, the one who came to serve, does not applaud this behavior for this is not what faith in action looks like.
To give us a vision of an act of faith, Jesus turns his disciples’ attention to a poor widow, who out of her poverty, puts everything she has to live on in the coffers. For those who like to use this illustration of faith as a means to develop a stewardship sermon, all I can say is “YIKES!” Is Jesus really asking us, who live in a very affluent country, to sell all we have and give the proceeds to the church? Some cult leaders try to convince their members to do so. But, that is not why Jesus speaks about this widow’s contribution. What she does is so much more than toss in a couple of pennies in the treasury – for an act of faith requires much more than some coinage or a few left over bucks placed neatly in the plate.
To Jesus, the behavior of the scribes who contribute much points to a lack of faith, while this widow’s behavior shows what faith really looks like. She may not have the means to support a building program or purchase an animal for a prescribed sacrifice. She probably would not be welcomed into the synagogue and she has no man in her life to help her out. In the society in which she lives she is as close to a nonperson as someone can be. And yet, she gives to the temple. She gives what she has in thanks to God. She withholds nothing!
She makes no show of her contribution. She wants no applause for putting in a couple coins. But by putting in all she has, she is placing her very life into the hands of the God whom she worships. She puts all her faith, all her trust, all her time – both present and future – into God’s hands, knowing that God and God alone can provide for her what she needs to make it through another day.
This is what an act of faith looks like. It goes beyond saying grace before meals and coming to services on a weekly basis. It goes beyond making a substantial contribution in time, talent and resources. It extends beyond saying the right words and helping out in a soup kitchen. It involves placing ALL that you have, ALL that you are, ALL that you will be, into God’s hands for safe keeping.
This is what the widow did and she did it without fear. Maybe she did it because she feels she has nothing to lose and much to gain. We will never know. But I dare say that few of us are willing to make such a huge a leap of faith.
Our net worth may not be equivalent to that of the scribes of Jesus’ time. We may not be as haughty as the scribes. We may not flaunt our faith and seek applause for what we do. We may actually desire to serve the needs of those who are less fortunate. But, to turn everything over to God for his safekeeping is very difficult indeed. We will always want to hold something back…just in case. Just in case we need it and God does not rain down blessings from heaven.
An act of faith of the magnitude shown by that one poor widow begins by acknowledging that everything is a gift from God, a blessing to be shared. It begins with a thankful heart that extends to the point of trust. This key word, “trust,” is never used by Jesus when he speaks to his disciples. And yet, trust is exactly what is needed. For an act of faith of this magnitude can only happen when you trust God to provide for you what you need for today and trust that God to be there for you tomorrow. It is trusting that God has your best interests at heart and will bless you in unexpected and undeserved ways . A trust in God of this magnitude takes away fear and frees each of us to be the generous, compassionate and faith-filled people of God.
My friends…as Jesus points out, it doesn’t take much to show such faith…a mite will do when placed in God’s hands. It doesn’t take much…as long as the mite that you give to God is you.
May each of you trust in the Lord as much as the widow, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.